Continuous microindentation has been carried out on an iron-3% silicon single crystal in 1 M sulfuric acid. The ability of the material to support elastic loading is directly linked to the presence of thermally grown oxide films and passive films applied through potentiostatic control of the sample. When the passive film is removed, either by chemical or electrochemical means, the iron alloy can no longer sustain pressures on the order of the theoretical shear strength of iron. Instead, the metal behaves in a traditional elastic-plastic manner when no film is present. The oxide film at the edges of the indentation can sustain applied tensile stresses up to 1.2 GPa prior to failure. Indentation in materials undergoing dissolution must account for the rate of material removal over the remote surface and the resulting plastic deformation around the contact of the indentation.
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The authors wish to thank D. E. Kramer for help with the sample preparation and N. R. Moody and M. I. Baskes of Sandia National Labs for support while writing this paper. This research was supported under a MURI with the University of Minnesota and Georgia Institute of Technology under grant ONR N/N00014-95-1-0539. W. W. G. wishes to acknowledge support from the Office of Naval Research under grant ONR N/N00014-95-1-0267.