How thermally activated deformation starts in metallic glasses
by Yue Fan, Takuya Iwashita, Takeshi Egami
The studies on dynamics and deformation in glassy materials are particularly challenging because of their strongly disordered atomic structure. Here, by probing the changes in the atomic displacements and stresses at saddle points of the potential energy landscape, we show that thermally activated deformation is triggered by subnano-scale rearrangements of a small number of atoms, typically less than 10 atoms. The individual triggers are invariant of the cooling history or elastic structure of the system. However, the organizations between different trigger centres can be varied and are related to the overall stability of the system. This finding allows a semi-quantitative construction of the potential energy landscape and brings a new perspective to the study of the mechanical properties of glasses.