Dislocations Stabilized by Point Defects Increase Brittleness in PbTe

James P. Male, Lamya Abdellaoui, Yuan Yu, Siyuan Zhang, Naomi Pieczulewski, Oana Cojocaru-Mirédin, Christina Scheu, Gerald Jeffrey Snyder*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Dislocations and the residual strain they produce are instrumental for the high thermoelectric figure of merit, zT ≈ 2, in lead chalcogenides. However, these materials tend to be brittle, barring them from practical green energy and deep space applications. Nonetheless, the bulk of thermoelectrics research focuses on increasing zT without considering mechanical performance. Optimized thermoelectric materials always involve high point defect concentrations for doping and solid solution alloying. Brittle materials show limited plasticity (dislocation motion), yet clear links between crystallographic defects and embrittlement are hitherto unestablished in PbTe. This study identifies connections between dislocations, point defects, and the brittleness (correlated with Vickers hardness) in single crystal and polycrystalline PbTe with various n- and p-type dopants. Speed of sound measurements show a lack of electronic bond stiffening in p-type PbTe, contrary to the previous speculation. Instead, varied routes of point defect–dislocation interaction restrict dislocation motion and drive embrittlement: dopants with low doping efficiency cause high defect concentrations, interstitial n-type dopants (Ag and Cu) create highly strained obstacles to dislocation motion, and highly mobile dopants can distribute inhomogeneously or segregate to dislocations. These results illustrate the consequences of excessive defect engineering and the necessity to consider both mechanical and thermoelectric performance when researching thermoelectric materials for practical applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2108006
JournalAdvanced Functional Materials
Issue number52
StatePublished - Dec 22 2021


  • brittleness
  • doping
  • hardness
  • mechanical stability
  • thermoelectrics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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