Although nanoscale twinning is an effective means to enhance yield strength and tensile ductility in metals, nanotwinned metals generally fail well below their theoretical strength limit due to heterogeneous dislocation nucleation from boundaries or surface imperfections. Here we show that Au nanowires containing angstrom-scaled twins (0.7 nm in thickness) exhibit tensile strengths up to 3.12 GPa, near the ideal limit, with a remarkable ductile-to-brittle transition with decreasing twin size. This is opposite to the behaviour of metallic nanowires with lower-density twins reported thus far. Ultrahigh-density twins (twin thickness<2.8 nm) are shown to give rise to homogeneous dislocation nucleation and plastic shear localization, contrasting with the heterogeneous slip mechanism observed in single-crystalline or low-density-twinned nanowires. The twin size dependent dislocation nucleation and deformation represent a new type of size effect distinct from the sample size effects described previously.
Low-dimensional materials containing defects such as twin boundaries are known to fail well below their theoretical strength due to surface imperfections. Here, Wang et al. observe strengths close to the ideal limit in gold nanowires with angstrom scale twins, where homogeneous dislocation nucleation controls deformation.