Large-Scale Density Functional Theory Investigation of Failure Modes in ZnO Nanowires

R Agrawal and JT Paci and HD Espinosa, NANO LETTERS, 10, 3432-3438 (2010).

DOI: 10.1021/nl1014926

Electromechanical and photonic properties of semiconducting nanowires depend on their strain states and are limited by their extent of deformation. A fundamental understanding of the mechanical response of individual nanowires is therefore essential to assess system reliability and to define the design space of future nanowire-based devices. Here we perform a large-scale density functional theory (DFT) investigation of failure modes in zinc oxide (ZnO) nanowires. Nanowires as large as 3.6 nm in diameter with 864 atoms were investigated. The study reveals that pristine nanowires can be elastically deformed to strains as high as 20%, prior to a phase transition leading to fracture. The current study suggests that the phase transition predicted at similar to 10% strain in pristine nanowires by the Buckingham pairwise potential (BP) is an artifact of approximations inherent in the BP. Instead, DFT-based energy barrier calculations suggest that defects may trigger heterogeneous phase transition leading to failure. Thus, the difference previously reported between in situ electron microscopy tensile experiments (brittle fracture) and atomistic simulations (phase transition and secondary loading) (Agrawal, R.; Peng, B.; Espinosa, H. D. Nano Lett. 2009, 9 (12), 4177-2183) is elucidated.

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