Deformation in nanocrystalline ceramics: A microstructural study of MgAl2O4

Barak Ratzker, Avital Wagner, Maxim Sokol, Louisa Meshi, Sergey Kalabukhov, Nachum Frage*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contrary to the characteristic strengthening of polycrystalline ceramics with a decrease in grain size, extremely fine nanocrystalline ceramics exhibit softening, increased plasticity and an inverse Hall-Petch relation. Despite experimental evidence, questions remain regarding the underlying deformation mechanisms governing this abnormal mechanical behavior. In the present study, an in-depth microstructural examination was performed on nanostructured transparent magnesium aluminate spinel (MgAl2O4) subjected to microhardness tests. Microstructural observations revealed regions strained to various degrees below the point of indentation, containing varying amounts of dislocations and nano-cavities. Furthermore, the residual strain in different areas was estimated by local electron diffraction. These observations and analysis provided evidence for grain boundary (GB) mediated mechanisms (e.g., GB sliding and rotation). Moreover, shear bands formed and were found to be associated with micro-cracking. By combining the microstructural analysis with suitable models, it was concluded that these mechanisms govern plastic deformation. By elucidating how strain is accommodated within nanocrystalline ceramics, a deeper understanding of their unique mechanical behavior is gained.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-144
Number of pages8
JournalActa Materialia
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Dislocations
  • Grain boundary sliding
  • Grain rotation
  • Indentation
  • Nanocrystalline ceramics
  • Shear bands


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