Grain boundary stability governs hardening and softening in extremely fine nanograined metals
Conventional metals become harder with decreasing grain sizes, following the classical Hall-Petch relationship. However, this relationship fails and softening occurs at some grain sizes in the nanometer regime for some alloys. In this study, we discovered that plastic deformation mechanism of extremely fine nanograined metals and their hardness are adjustable through tailoring grain boundary (GB) stability. The electrodeposited nanograined nickel-molybdenum (Ni–Mo) samples become softened for grain sizes below 10 nanometers because of GB-mediated processes. With GB stabilization through relaxation and Mo segregation, ultrahigh hardness is achieved in the nanograined samples with a plastic deformation mechanism dominated by generation of extended partial dislocations. Grain boundary stability provides an alternative dimension, in addition to grain size, for producing novel nanograined metals with extraordinary properties.