In the absence of dislocation-mediated crystallographic slip, room-temperature deformation in metallic glasses occurs in thin shear bands initially only ∼10 nm thick. A sharp drop in viscosity (shear softening) occurs in deformed glassy matter and facilitates additional flow in existing shear bands. This further localization of plastic flow leads to shearing-off failure without any significant macroscopic plasticity.
However, whereas most bulk metallic glasses fail in this manner, some undergo surprisingly extensive plastic deformation (in some cases, up to 50% or more) in compression or bending. When this occurs, the flow is “jerky,” as indicated by serrated stress–strain curves. Each serration may correspond to the emission of a shear band that then ceases to operate, at least temporarily, despite the predicted shear softening. As elastic energy is converted to heat during shear, temperatures rise sharply at or near shear bands. This heating may lead to the growth of nanocrystals that then block propagation of shear bands and cracks. The understanding of the dependence of mechanical response of metallic glasses on intrinsic (elastic constants, chemistry) and extrinsic factors (shapes, flaws) is the subject of intense current interest.