From bone to spider silk, examples of hierarchical structures conferring untold strength to materials abound in nature. While materials scientists have been quick to mimic the approach to enhance mechanical properties, why these structures improve strength is not always well understood. Now, through a series of systematic experiments and atomistic simulations of nanotwinned copper structures, researchers in China and the US have not only shown that gradient structures can increase the strength of these materials, but also reveal the mechanisms behind these enhanced mechanical properties. They believe that the work may allow a more informed approach to the application of gradient structures to strengthen other material systems.
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