The team, which also includes Illinois condensed matter physicist Karin Dahmen and her graduate student Li Shu, published its results in Communications Physics. The experimental work was done by Dr. Yang Hu, as part of his Ph. D thesis.
Until this study researchers couldn’t make sense of the mechanism behind dislocation avalanche within a structure. However, the Illinois team found that a series of dislocations piling up forming a dam to prohibit movement. Behind the dam are tangled dislocations. Once there is enough pressure, an avalanche forms causing the dam to give way and sudden movement of the tangled dislocations, which weakens the metal and can eventually lead to catastrophic failure. By having a better understanding of this process, this study promises to aid in developing even stronger materials in the future and to better predict when a structure may be in peril.