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Molecular dynamics investigation of plasticity in a model nanocrystalline silicon system demonstrates that inelastic deformation localizes in intergranular regions. The carriers of plasticity in these regions are atomic environments that can be described as high-density liquid-like amorphous silicon. During fully developed flow, plasticity is confined to system-spanning intergranular zones of easy flow. As an active flow zone rotates out of the plane of maximum resolved shear stress during deformation to large strain, new zones of easy flow are formed. Compatibility of the microstructure is accommodated by processes such as grain rotation and formation of new grains. Nano-scale voids or cracks may form if there emerge stress concentrations that cannot be relaxed by a mechanism that simultaneously preserves microstructural compatibility.

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