Transport at Nanoscale Interfaces Laboratory

Achieving micron-scale plasticity and theoretical strength in silicon

Chen M, Pethö L, Sologubenko AS, Ma H, Michler J, Spolenak R & Wheeler JM

Nature Communications, 11(1), 2681 (10 pp.). 2020

As the backbone material of the information age, silicon is extensively used as a functional semiconductor and structural material in microelectronics and microsystems. At ambient temperature, the brittleness of Si limits its mechanical application in devices. Here, we demonstrate that Si processed by modern lithography procedures exhibits an ultrahigh elastic strain limit, near ideal strength (shear strength ~4 GPa) and plastic deformation at the micron-scale, one order of magnitude larger than samples made using focused ion beams, due to superior surface quality. This extended elastic regime enables enhanced functional properties by allowing higher elastic strains to modify the band structure. Further, the micron-scale plasticity of Si allows the investigation of the intrinsic size effects and dislocation behavior in diamond-structured materials. This reveals a transition in deformation mechanisms from full to partial dislocations upon increasing specimen size at ambient temperature. This study demonstrates a surface engineering pathway for fabrication of more robust Si-based structures.