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A material is brittle if it is liable to fracture when subjected to
stress. That is, it has little tendency to deform before fracture.
This fracture absorbs relatively little energy, even in materials
of high strength, and usually makes a snapping sound. When used in
materials science, it is generally applied to materials that fail
in tension rather than shear, or when there is little or no
evidence of plastic deformation before failure. When a material has
reached the limit of its strength, it usually has the option of
either deformation or fracture. A naturally malleable metal can be
made stronger by impeding the mechanisms of plastic deformation,
but if this is taken to an extreme, fracture becomes the more
likely outcome, and the material can become brittle. Improving
material toughness is therefore a balancing act.
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