Colloidal metallurgy : design, control of the microstructure and plasticity of a colloidal analogue of metallic alloys

Virtually all real-life crystalline materials, metal or ceramics, are in fact aggregates of crystalline grains. Grain-boundaries (GBs), the two-dimensional lattice defects that separate the different grains of a crystal, control the mechanical properties of polycrystalline materials. Although GB motion is known to play important roles in plastic deformation, the microscopic origin of the plasticity of polycrystalline materials is still largely unknown, because of the limitations of available experimental tools to record, during deformation, the dynamics of the process with a nanometer resolution.

To overcome these limitations, we have designed a colloidal analogue of atomic polycrystals. In the first part of my talk I will present our experimental system, obtained by doping a copolymer micellar crystal with nanoparticles. Nanoparticles act as impurities, and as such, they segregate in the GBs of the colloidal polycrystal, allowing their visualization by imaging or scattering techniques. I will show that the microstructure of the polycrystal can be tuned by independently varying the nanoparticle volume fraction and the crystallization rate, and that our findings can be quantified using standard models for the nucleation and growth of crystalline materials.

The second part of my talk will be devoted to our preliminary results on the plasticity of the colloidal polycrystals. We perform multispeckle time-resolved dynamic light scattering measurements on the samples submitted to cyclic shear deformations using a novel light scattering apparatus specifically designed to access the dynamics of the network of GBs. Plasticity is quantified by analyzing the correlation of the scattered intensity measured after a given number of deformation cycles. We demonstrate that the shear-induced GB dynamics at the origin of plasticity is aging in a length-scale dependence manner. We extract a characteristic length above which the GB dynamics is stationary, which is found to increase with the shear amplitude. Our data suggest a hierarchical organization of the GB network under shear and provides a novel framework to understand the plasticity of polycrystals.