We have studied brittle and ductile behavior and their dependence on system size and interaction potentials, using molecular-dynamics (MD) simulations. By carefully embedding a single sharp crack in two- and three-dimensional crystals, and using a variant of the efficient sound-absorbing reservoir of Holian and Ravelo [Phys. Rev. B 51, 11275 (1995)], we have been able to probe both the static and dynamic crack regimes. Our treatment of boundary and initial conditions allows us to elucidate early crack propagation mechanisms under delicate overloading, all the way up to the more extreme dynamic crack-propagation regime, for much longer times than has been possible heretofore (before unwanted boundary effects predominate). For example, we have used graphical display of atomic velocities, forces, and potential energies to expose the presence of localized phonon-like modes near the moving crack tip, just prior to dislocation emission and crack-branching events. We find that our careful MD method is able to reproduce the ZCT brittle-ductile criterion for short-range pair potentials [static lattice Green's function calculations of Zhou, Carlsson, and Thomson, Phys. Rev. Letters 72, 852 (1994)].
We report on progress we have made in large-scale 3D simulations in samples that are thick enough to display realistic behavior at the crack tip, including emission of dislocation loops. Such. calculations, using our careful treatment of boundary and initial conditions - especially important in 3D - have the promise of opening up new vistas in fracture research.