Room temperature crack-healing in an atomically layered ternary carbide.
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Ceramic materials provide outstanding chemical and structural stability at high temperatures and in hostile environments but are susceptible to catastrophic fracture that severely limits their applicability. Traditional approaches to partially overcome this limitation rely on activating toughening mechanisms during crack growth to postpone fracture. Here, we demonstrate a more potent toughening mechanism that involves an intriguing possibility of healing the cracks as they form, even at room temperature, in an atomically layered ternary carbide. Crystals of this class of ceramic materials readily fracture along weakly bonded crystallographic planes. However, the onset of an abstruse mode of deformation, referred to as kinking in these materials, induces large crystallographic rotations and plastic deformation that physically heal the cracks. This implies that the toughness of numerous other layered ceramic materials, whose broader applications have been limited by their susceptibility to catastrophic fracture, can also be enhanced by microstructural engineering to promote kinking and crack-healing.