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Athermal Fracture of Covalent Bonds

  • J. J. Gilman (a1)

Abstract

Most fracture is athermal. Either because it occurs at low temperatures; or because it occurs too fast for thermal activation to be effective. Thus it must be directly activated by applied stresses. This can occur via quantum tunneling when the chemical bonding of a solid resides in localized (covalent) bonds. Then applied stresses can cause the bonding electrons to become delocalized (anti-bonded) through quantum tunneling. That is, the bonds become broken. The process is related to the Zener tunneling process that is thought to be responsible for dielectric breakdown in semiconductors. Under a driving force, bonding electrons tunnel at constant energy from their bonding states into anti-bonding states through the forbidden gap in the bonding energy spectrum.

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