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Linear Defects - Dislocations

Dislocations are another type of defect in crystals. Dislocations are areas were the atoms are out of position in the crystal structure. Dislocations are generated and move when a stress is applied. The motion of dislocations allows slip – plastic deformation to occur.

Before the discovery of the dislocation by Taylor, Orowan and Polyani in 1934, no one could figure out how the plastic deformation properties of a metal could be greatly changed by solely by forming (without changing the chemical composition). This became even bigger mystery when in the early 1900’s scientists estimated that metals undergo plastic deformation at forces much smaller than the theoretical strength of the forces that are holding the metal atoms together. Many metallurgists remained skeptical of the dislocation theory until the development of the transmission electron microscope in the late 1950’s. The TEM allowed experimental evidence to be collected that showed that the strength and ductility of metals are controlled by dislocations.

There are two basic types of dislocations, the edge dislocation and the screw dislocation. Actually, edge and screw dislocations are just extreme forms of the possible dislocation structures that can occur. Most dislocations are probably a hybrid of the edge and screw forms but this discussion will be limited to these two types.

Edge Dislocations
The edge defect can be easily visualized as an extra half-plane of atoms in a lattice. The dislocation is called a line defect because the locus of defective points produced in the lattice by the dislocation lie along a line. This line runs along the top of the extra half-plane. The inter-atomic bonds are significantly distorted only in the immediate vicinity of the dislocation line.

Understanding the movement of a dislocation is key to understanding why dislocations allow deformation to occur at much lower stress than in a perfect crystal. Dislocation motion is analogous to movement of a caterpillar. The caterpillar would have to exert a large force to move its entire body at once. Instead it moves the rear portion of its body forward a small amount and creates a hump. The hump then moves forward and eventual moves all of the body forward by a small amount.

As shown in the set of images above, the dislocation moves similarly moves a small amount at a time. The dislocation in the top half of the crystal is slipping one plane at a time as it moves to the right from its position in image (a) to its position in image (b) and finally image (c). In the process of slipping one plane at a time the dislocation propagates across the crystal. The movement of the dislocation across the plane eventually causes the top half of the crystal to move with respect to the bottom half. However, only a small fraction of the bonds are broken at any given time. Movement in this manner requires a much smaller force than breaking all the bonds across the middle plane simultaneously.

Screw Dislocations
There is a second basic type of dislocation, called screw dislocation. The screw dislocation is slightly more difficult to visualize. The motion of a screw dislocation is also a result of shear stress, but the defect line movement is perpendicular to direction of the stress and the atom displacement, rather than parallel. To visualize a screw dislocation, imagine a block of metal with a shear stress applied across one end so that the metal begins to rip. This is shown in the upper right image. The lower right image shows the plane of atoms just above the rip. The atoms represented by the blue circles have not yet moved from their original position. The atoms represented by the red circles have moved to their new position in the lattice and have reestablished metallic bonds. The atoms represented by the green circles are in the process of moving. It can be seen that only a portion of the bonds are broke at any given time. As was the case with the edge dislocation, movement in this manner requires a much smaller force than breaking all the bonds across the middle plane simultaneously.

If the shear force is increased, the atoms will continue to slip to the right. A row of the green atoms will find there way back into a proper spot in the lattice (and become red) and a row of the blue atoms will slip out of position (and become green). In this way, the screw dislocation will move upward in the image, which is perpendicular to direction of the stress. Recall that the edge dislocation moves parallel to the direction of stress. As shown in the image below, the net plastic deformation of both edge and screw dislocations is the same, however.

The dislocations move along the densest planes of atoms in a material, because the stress needed to move the dislocation increases with the spacing between the planes. FCC and BCC metals have many dense planes, so dislocations move relatively easy and these materials have high ductility. Metals are strengthened by making it more difficult for dislocations to move. This may involve the introduction of obstacles, such as interstitial atoms or grain boundaries, to “pin” the dislocations. Also, as a material plastically deforms, more dislocations are produced and they will get into each others way and impede movement. This is why strain or work hardening occurs.

In ionically bonded materials, the ion must move past an area with a repulsive charge in order to get to the next location of the same charge. Therefore, slip is difficult and the materials are brittle. Likewise, the low density packing of covalent materials makes them generally more brittle than metals.