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Deformation, plasticity, and flow in silica-based glasses have been studied for decades, and yet important questions remain about the atomistic mechanisms underlying these processes. Our molecular dynamics simulations of nanoindentation indicate that these mechanical processes have a unified underlying atomistic mechanism. The simulations reveal that indentation nucleates under-coordinated silicon and oxygen defects, which migrate by switching bonds in string-like processes. We also observedoi:10.1063/1.3637052 fatcat:srhcefnqzvdinga5yhuif6g664