Size and temperature effects on the fracture mechanisms of silicon nanowires: Molecular dynamics simulations

KW Kang and W Cai, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PLASTICITY, 26, 1387-1401 (2010).

DOI: 10.1016/j.ijplas.2010.02.001

We present molecular dynamics simulations of 110-oriented Si nanowires (NWs) under a constant strain rate in tension until failure, using the modified embedded-atom-method (MEAM) potential. The fracture behavior of the NWs depends on both temperature and NW diameter. For NWs of diameter larger than 4 nm, cleavage fracture on the transverse (1 1 0) plane are predominantly observed at temperatures below 1000 K. At higher temperatures, the same NWs shear extensively on inclined 1 1 1 planes prior to fracture, analogous to the brittle-to-ductile transition (BDT) in bulk Si. Surprisingly, NWs with diameter less than 4 nm fail by shear regardless of temperature. Detailed analysis reveals that cleavage fracture is initiated by the nucleation of a crack, while shear failure is initiated by the nucleation of a dislocation, both from the surface. While dislocation mobility is believed to be the controlling factor of BDT in bulk Si, our analysis showed that the change of failure mechanism in Si NWs with decreasing diameters is nucleation controlled. Our results are compared with a recent in situ tensile experiment of Si NWs showing ductile failure at room temperature. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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