Scale effects for strength, ductility, and toughness in "brittle" materials

W. W. Gerberich, J. Michler, W. M. Mook, R. Ghisleni, F. Östlund, D. D. Stauffer, R. Ballarini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Decreasing scales effectively increase nearly all important mechanical properties of at least some "brittle" materials below 100 nm. With an emphasis on silicon nanopillars, nanowires, and nanospheres, it is shown that strength, ductility, and toughness all increase roughly with the inverse radius of the appropriate dimension. This is shown experimentally as well as on a mechanistic basis using a proposed dislocation shielding model. Theoretically, this collects a reasonable array of semiconductors and ceramics onto the same field using fundamental physical parameters. This gives proportionality between fracture toughness and the other mechanical properties. Additionally, this leads to a fundamental concept of work per unit fracture area, which predicts the critical event for brittle fracture. In semibrittle materials such as silicon, this can occur at room temperature when the scale is sufficiently small. When the local stress associated with dislocation nucleation increases to that sufficient to break bonds, an instability occurs resulting in fracture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)898-906
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Materials Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded through NSF Grant No. CMS-0322436 and the NSF IGERT program through DGE-0114372. Parts of this work were carried out in the University of Minnesota I.T. Characterization Facility, which receives partial support from NSF through the NNIN program. We also appreciate support for one of us (D.D.S.) from Hysitron, Inc.


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