The electromigration (EM) effect involves atomic diffusion of metals under current stressing. Recent theories of EM are based on the unbalanced electrostatic and electron-wind forces exerted on metal ions. However, none of these models have coupled the EM effect and lattice stability. Here, we performed in situ current-stressing experiments for pure Cu strips using synchrotron X-ray diffractometry and scanning electron microscopy and ab initio calculations based on density functional theory. An intrinsic and non-uniform lattice expansion - larger at the cathode and smaller at the anode, is identified induced by the flow of electrons. If this electron flow-induced strain is small, it causes an elastic deformation; while if it is larger than the yield point, diffusion as local stress relaxation will cause the formation of hillocks and voids as well as EM-induced failure. The fundamental driving force for the electromigration effect is elucidated and validated with experiments.
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