The ultrafast evolution of microstructure is key to understanding high-pressure and strain-rate phenomena. However, the visualization of lattice dynamics at scales commensurate with those of atomistic simulations has been challenging. Here, we report femtosecond x-ray diffraction measurements unveiling the response of copper to laser shock-compression at peak normal elastic stresses of ∼73 gigapascals (GPa) and strain rates of 109 per second. We capture the evolution of the lattice from a one-dimensional (1D) elastic to a 3D plastically relaxed state within a few tens of picoseconds, after reaching shear stresses of 18 GPa. Our in situ high-precision measurement of material strength at spatial (<1 micrometer) and temporal (<50 picoseconds) scales provides a direct comparison with multimillion-atom molecular dynamics simulations.
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