Making brittle materials tough

Material scientists in Leoben discover a new strategy to render brittle materials much more resistant to cracking. The trick: Make them small!

Personal experience has it that very hard materials tend to shatter catastrophically. Among many others, this also holds true for silicon, the fundamental material any microelectronic component is built on. Silicon based chips operate in every cell phone, in control elements of cars and other electronic instruments. While its functional properties make it indispensable for modern life, the low damage tolerance of silicon limits reliability and safety in daily use.

Being small as an advantage

A team of material scientists from the Chair of Material Physics of the Montanuniversität Leoben, the Erich Schmid Institute for Materials Science of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the Materials Center Leoben now discovered that an intrinsic toughening of this inherently brittle material is possible by means of adequate miniaturization.

Using highly resolved nanoscale in-situ experiments in conjunction with computational twins, they were able to demonstrate an increase in fracture toughness by more than three hundred percent. “These are extremely exciting news for micro- and nanoelectronic applications, as due to the ongoing miniaturization trend components and structures constantly shrink. Our results open a new pathway to concomitantly toughen the functional material just by dimensional reduction.” explains Assoz.Prof. Dr. Daniel Kiener, leader of the research team.


These trendsetting results were recently published under an open access policy in Materials Today, a premium material science journal, where details to the work can be found:

In-situ TEM investigation of toughening in Silicon at small scales

I. Issa et al, Materials Today, published 03.07.2021


Further information

Assoz.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr.mont. Daniel Kiener

Chair of Materials Physics, Department of Materials Science, Montanuniversität Leoben

E-Mail: daniel.kiener@unileoben.ac.at

Tel.: +43 3842 804 412