In nanocrystalline metals, lack of intragranular dislocation sources leads to plastic deformation mechanisms that substantially differ from those in coarse-grained metals. However, irrespective of grain size, plastic deformation is considered irrecoverable. We show experimentally that plastically deformed nanocrystalline aluminum and gold films with grain sizes of 65 nanometers and 50 nanometers, respectively, recovered a substantial fraction (50 to 100%) of plastic strain after unloading. This recovery was time dependent and was expedited at higher temperatures. Furthermore, the stress-strain characteristics during the next loading remained almost unchanged when strain recovery was complete. These observations in two dissimilar face-centered cubic metals suggest that strain recovery might be characteristic of other metals with similar grain sizes and crystalline packing.
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