Mode-I fracture exhibits microbranching in the high velocity regime where the simple straight crack is unstable. For velocities below the instability, classic modeling using linear elasticity is valid. However, showing the existence of the instability and calculating the dynamics postinstability within the linear elastic framework is difficult and controversial. The experimental results give several indications that the microbranching phenomenon is basically a three-dimensional (3D) phenomenon. Nevertheless, the theoretical effort has been focused mostly on two-dimensional (2D) modeling. In this paper we study the microbranching instability using three-dimensional atomistic simulations, exploring the difference between the 2D and the 3D models. We find that the basic 3D fracture pattern shares similar behavior with the 2D case. Nevertheless, we exhibit a clear 3D-2D transition as the crack velocity increases, whereas as long as the microbranches are sufficiently small, the behavior is pure 3D behavior, whereas at large driving, as the size of the microbranches increases, more 2D-like behavior is exhibited. In addition, in 3D simulations, the quantitative features of the microbranches, separating the regimes of steady-state cracks (mirror) and postinstability (mist-hackle) are reproduced clearly, consistent with the experimental findings.
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