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Transition from elastic to plastic deformation as asperity contact size is increased

Contacts between a clean sodium chloride pyramidal shaped asperity and a plane NaCl surface have been investigated by molecular dynamics simulations. For small contacts, a few atoms across, the asperity jumped to contact and behaved elastically as normal load was applied. Then, when the force was reversed to detach the asperity, brittle failure occurred without any damage to the crystalline materials. However, as the contact size of the asperity was increased to 6 × 6 atoms in area, the mechanism of detachment was seen to alter. The jump to contact was elastic and damage free, but the separation could not be achieved elastically, but required plastic deformation, giving extensive energy dissipation and severe damage as edge defects propagated through the asperity. Above this contact size, plastic flow was dominant. However, there is clearly a further transition back to elastic fracture once the asperity becomes large enough for Griffith-type cracking to propagate above 1 μm in size, since large sodium chloride contacts are known to be brittle above the micrometre scale, depending on the presence of crack initiating defects.

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Correspondence to K. Kendall.

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Yong, C.W., Smith, W., Dhir, A. et al. Transition from elastic to plastic deformation as asperity contact size is increased. Tribol Lett 26, 235–238 (2007).

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  • asperity deformation, brittle/ductile transition, nanometre contacts