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Deformation characteristics of solid-state benzene as a step towards understanding planetary geology

  • Small organic molecules, like ethane and benzene, are ubiquitous in the atmosphere and surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, forming plains, dunes, canyons, and other surface features. Understanding Titan’s dynamic geology and designing future landing missions requires sufficient knowledge of the mechanical characteristics of these solid-state organic minerals, which is currently lacking. To understand the deformation and mechanical properties of a representative solid organic material at space-relevant temperatures, we freeze liquid micro-droplets of benzene to form ~10 μm-tall single-crystalline pyramids and uniaxially compress them in situ. These micromechanical experiments reveal contact pressures decaying from ~2 to ~0.5 GPa after ~1 μm-reduction in pyramid height. The deformation occurs via a series of stochastic (~5-30 nm) displacement bursts, corresponding to densification and stiffening of the compressed material during cyclic loading to progressively higher loads. Molecular dynamics simulations reveal predominantly plastic deformation and densified region formation by the re-orientation and interplanar shear of benzene rings, providing a two-step stiffening mechanism. This work demonstrates the feasibility of in-situ cryogenic nanomechanical characterization of solid organics as a pathway to gain insights into the geophysics of planetary bodies.

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Document Type:Article
Author:Wenxin Zhang, Xuan ZhangORCiD, Bryce W. Edwards, Lei Zhong, Huajian GaoORCiD, Michael J. MalaskaORCiD, Robert HodyssORCiD, Julia R. GreerORCiD
Parent Title (English):Nature Communications
First Page:7949
Year of first Publication:2022
Release Date:2023/02/03
Impact:14.919 (2021)
Funding Information:Humboldt Research Fellowship for Postdocs. Research start-up grant (002479-00001, H.G.) from Nanyang Technological University and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004)
Groups:Funktionelle Mikrostrukturen
DDC classes:500 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 540 Chemie
Open Access:Open Access
Signature:INM 2022/060
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - CC BY - Namensnennung 4.0 International