Although deformation processes in submicron-sized metallic crystals are well documented, the direct observation of deformation mechanisms in crystals with dimensions below the sub-10-nm range is currently lacking. Here, through in situ high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) observations, we show that (1) in sharp contrast to what happens in bulk materials, in which plasticity is mediated by dislocation emission from Frank-Read sources and multiplication, partial dislocations emitted from free surfaces dominate the deformation of gold (Au) nanocrystals; (2) the crystallographic orientation (Schmid factor) is not the only factor in determining the deformation mechanism of nanometre-sized Au; and (3) the Au nanocrystal exhibits a phase transformation from a face-centered cubic to a body-centered tetragonal structure after failure. These findings provide direct experimental evidence for the vast amount of theoretical modelling on the deformation mechanisms of nanomaterials that have appeared in recent years.
Deformations in nanocrystals smaller than 10 nm are not well understood. The authors perform compression high-resolution transmission electron microscopy studies of gold nanoparticles, and determine that the nanoparticles deform through the emission of partial dislocations from free surfaces.