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

WX Zhang and X Zhang and BW Edwards and L Zhong and HJ Gao and MJ Malaska and R Hodyss and JR Greer, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 13, 7949 (2022).

DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-35647-x

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 similar to 10 mu m-tall single-crystalline pyramids and uniaxially compress them in situ. These micromechanical experiments reveal contact pressures decaying from similar to 2 to similar to 0.5 GPa after similar to 1 mu m-reduction in pyramid height. The deformation occurs via a series of stochastic (similar to 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.

Return to Publications page