Role of surface oxidation on the size dependent mechanical properties of nickel nanowires: A ReaxFF molecular dynamics study
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Highly reactive metallic nickel (Ni) is readily oxidized by oxygen (O2) molecules even at low temperatures. The presence of the naturally resulting pre-oxide shell layer on metallic Ni nano materials such as Ni nanowires (NW) is responsible for degrading the deformation mechanisms and related mechanical properties. However, the role of the pre-oxide shell layer on the metallic Ni NW coupled with the complicated mechanical deformation mechanism and related properties have not yet been fully and independently understood. For this reason, the ReaxFF reactive force field for Ni/O interactions was used to investigate the effect of surface oxide layers and the size-dependent mechanical properties of Ni NWs under precisely controlled tensile loading conditions. To directly quantify the size dependent surface oxidation effect on the tensile mechanical deformation behaviour and related properties for Ni NWs, first, ReaxFF-molecular dynamics (MD) simulations were carried out to study the oxidation kinetics on the free surface of Ni NWs in a molecular O2 environment as a function of various diameters (D = 5.0, 6.5, and 8.0 nm) of the NWs, but at the same length. Single crystalline, pure metallic Ni NWs were also studied as a reference. The results of the oxidation simulations indicate that a surface oxide shell layer with limiting thickness of ∼1.0 nm was formed on the free surface of the bare Ni NW, typically via dissociation of the O-O bonds and the subsequent formation of Ni-O bonds. Furthermore, we investigated the evolution of the size-dependent intrinsic mechanical elastic properties of the core-oxide shell (Ni/NixOy) NWs by comparing them with their un-oxidized counterparts under constant uniaxial tensile loading. We found that the oxide shell layer significantly decreases the mechanical properties of metallic Ni NW as well as facilitates the initiation of plastic deformation as a function of decreasing diameter. The disordered oxide shell layer on the Ni NW's surface remarkably reduces the yield stress and Young's modulus, due to the increased softening effects with the decreasing NW diameter, compared to un-oxidized counterparts. Moreover, the onset of plastic deformation occurs at a relatively low yielding strain and stress level for the smaller diameter of oxide-coated Ni NWs in comparison to their pure counterparts. Furthermore, for pure Ni NWs, Young's modulus, the yielding stress and strain slightly decrease with the decrease in the diameter size of Ni NWs.