Researchers have observed a way that the brittle nature of ceramics can be overcome as they sustain heavy loads, leading to more resilient structures such as dental implants.

Tests revealed that ceramics are almost as ductile as metals. (Credit: Purdue University image/Vincent Walter)

The study demonstrates for the first time that applying an electric field to the formation of yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ), a typical thermal barrier ceramic, makes the material almost as plastic, or easily reshaped, as metal at room temperature. Engineers could also see cracks sooner since they start to slowly form at a moderate temperature as opposed to higher temperatures, giving them time to rescue a structure.

What allows metals to be fracture-resistant and easy to change shape is the presence of defects, or dislocations — extra planes of atoms that shuffle during deformation to make a material simply deform rather than break under a load. Flash-sintering ceramics introduces these dislocations and creates a smaller grain size in the resulting material.

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