Electrically assisted deformation (EAD) is an emerging technique to enhance formability of metals by applying an electric current through them. Despite its increasing importance in manufacturing applications, there is still an unresolved debate on the nature of the fundamental deformation mechanisms underlying EAD, mainly between electroplasticity (non-thermal effects) and resistive heating (thermal effects). This status is due to two critical challenges: (1) a lack of experimental techniques to directly observe fundamental mechanisms of material deformation during EAD, and (2) intrinsic coupling between electric current and Joule heating giving rise to unwanted thermally activated mechanisms. To overcome these challenges, we have developed a microdevice-based electromechanical testing system (MEMTS) to characterize nanoscale metal specimens in transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Our studies reveal that MEMTS eliminates the effect of Joule heating on material deformation, a critical advantage over macroscopic experiments, owing to its unique scale. For example, a negligible change in temperature (<0.02 °C) is predicted at ∼3500 A/mm2. Utilizing the attractive features of MEMTS, we have directly investigated potential electron-dislocation interactions in single crystal copper (SCC) specimens that are simultaneously subjected to uniaxial loading and electric current density up to 5000 A/mm2. Our in situ TEM studies indicate that for SCC, electroplasticity does not play a key role as no differences in dislocation activities, such as depinning and movement, are observed.
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