The elastic strain sustainable in crystal lattices is usually limited by the onset of inelastic yielding mediated by discrete dislocation activity, displacive deformation twinning and stress-induced phase transformations, or fracture associated with flaws. Here we report a continuous and gradual lattice deformation in bending nickel nanowires to a reversible shear strain as high as 34.6%, which is approximately four times that of the theoretical elastic strain limit for unconstrained loading. The functioning deformation mechanism was revealed on the atomic scale by an in situ nanowire bending experiments inside a transmission electron microscope. The complete continuous lattice straining process of crystals has been witnessed in its entirety for the straining path, which starts from the face-centred cubic lattice, transitions through the orthogonal path to reach a body-centred tetragonal structure and finally to a re-oriented face-centred cubic structure.
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