Dislocations and Strength ofg Materials

Plastic deformation occurs when large numbers of dislocations move and multiply so as to result in macroscopic deformation. In other words, it is the movement of dislocations in the material which allows for deformation. If we want to enhance a material's mechanical properties (i.e. increase the yield and tensile strength), we simply need to introduce a mechanism which reduces the mobility of these dislocations.

The stress required to cause dislocation motion is orders of magnitude lower than the theoretical stress required to shift an entire plane of atoms, so this mode of stress relief is energetically favorable. Hence, the hardness and strength (both yield and tensile) critically depend on the ease with which dislocations move. Pinning points, or locations in the crystal that oppose the motion of dislocations, can be introduced into the lattice to reduce dislocation mobility, thereby increasing mechanical strength. Dislocations may be pinned due to stress field interactions with other dislocations and solute particles, or physical barriers from grain boundaries for example. There are four main strengthening mechanisms for metals, however the key concept to remember about strengthening of metallic materials is that it is all about preventing dislocation motion and propagation; you are making it energetically unfavorable for the dislocation to move or propagate. For a material that has been strengthened, by some processing method, the amount of force required to start irreversible (plastic) deformation is greater than it was for the original material.

In amorphous materials such as polymers, amorphous ceramics (glass), and amorphous metals, the lack of long range order leads to yielding via mechanisms such as brittle fracture, crazing, and shear band formation. In these systems, strengthening mechanisms do not involve dislocations, but rather consist of modifications to the chemical structure and processing of the constituent material.

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