During plastic deformation of metals and alloys, dislocations arrange in ordered patterns. How and when these self-organization processes take place have remained elusive, because in situ observations have not been feasible. We present an x-ray diffraction method that provided data on the dynamics of individual, deeply embedded dislocation structures. During tensile deformation of pure copper, dislocation-free regions were identified. They showed an unexpected intermittent dynamics, for example, appearing and disappearing with proceeding deformation and even displaying transient splitting behavior. Insight into these processes is relevant for an understanding of the strength and work-hardening of deformed materials.
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