Science Advances

Approaching the ideal elastic strain limit in silicon nanowires

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Achieving high elasticity for silicon (Si) nanowires, one of the most important and versatile building blocks in nanoelectronics, would enable their application in flexible electronics and bio-nano interfaces. We show that vapor-liquid-solid–grown single-crystalline Si nanowires with diameters of ~100 nm can be repeatedly stretched above 10% elastic strain at room temperature, approaching the theoretical elastic limit of silicon (17 to 20%). A few samples even reached ~16% tensile strain, with estimated fracture stress up to ~20 GPa. The deformations were fully reversible and hysteresis-free under loading-unloading tests with varied strain rates, and the failures still occurred in brittle fracture, with no visible sign of plasticity. The ability to achieve this “deep ultra-strength” for Si nanowires can be attributed mainly to their pristine, defect-scarce, nanosized single-crystalline structure and atomically smooth surfaces. This result indicates that semiconductor nanowires could have ultra-large elasticity with tunable band structures for promising “elastic strain engineering” applications.