Elasticity (physics)

Last updated

In physics and materials science, elasticity is the ability of a body to resist a distorting influence and to return to its original size and shape when that influence or force is removed. Solid objects will deform when adequate loads are applied to them; if the material is elastic, the object will return to its initial shape and size after removal. This is in contrast to plasticity, in which the object fails to do so and instead remains in its deformed state.


The physical reasons for elastic behavior can be quite different for different materials. In metals, the atomic lattice changes size and shape when forces are applied (energy is added to the system). When forces are removed, the lattice goes back to the original lower energy state. For rubbers and other polymers, elasticity is caused by the stretching of polymer chains when forces are applied.

Hooke's law states that the force required to deform elastic objects should be directly proportional to the distance of deformation, regardless of how large that distance becomes. This is known as perfect elasticity, in which a given object will return to its original shape no matter how strongly it is deformed. This is an ideal concept only; most materials which possess elasticity in practice remain purely elastic only up to very small deformations, after which plastic (permanent) deformation occurs.

In engineering, the elasticity of a material is quantified by the elastic modulus such as the Young's modulus, bulk modulus or shear modulus which measure the amount of stress needed to achieve a unit of strain; a higher modulus indicates that the material is harder to deform. The SI unit of this modulus is the pascal (Pa). The material's elastic limit or yield strength is the maximum stress that can arise before the onset of plastic deformation. Its SI unit is also the pascal (Pa).


When an elastic material is deformed due to an external force, it experiences internal resistance to the deformation and restores it to its original state if the external force is no longer applied. There are various elastic moduli, such as Young's modulus, the shear modulus, and the bulk modulus, all of which are measures of the inherent elastic properties of a material as a resistance to deformation under an applied load. The various moduli apply to different kinds of deformation. For instance, Young's modulus applies to extension/compression of a body, whereas the shear modulus applies to its shear. [1] Young's modulus and shear modulus are only for solids, whereas the bulk modulus is for solids, liquids, and gases.

The elasticity of materials is described by a stress–strain curve, which shows the relation between stress (the average restorative internal force per unit area) and strain (the relative deformation). [2] The curve is generally nonlinear, but it can (by use of a Taylor series) be approximated as linear for sufficiently small deformations (in which higher-order terms are negligible). If the material is isotropic, the linearized stress–strain relationship is called Hooke's law, which is often presumed to apply up to the elastic limit for most metals or crystalline materials whereas nonlinear elasticity is generally required to model large deformations of rubbery materials even in the elastic range. For even higher stresses, materials exhibit plastic behavior, that is, they deform irreversibly and do not return to their original shape after stress is no longer applied. [3] For rubber-like materials such as elastomers, the slope of the stress–strain curve increases with stress, meaning that rubbers progressively become more difficult to stretch, while for most metals, the gradient decreases at very high stresses, meaning that they progressively become easier to stretch. [4] Elasticity is not exhibited only by solids; non-Newtonian fluids, such as viscoelastic fluids, will also exhibit elasticity in certain conditions quantified by the Deborah number. In response to a small, rapidly applied and removed strain, these fluids may deform and then return to their original shape. Under larger strains, or strains applied for longer periods of time, these fluids may start to flow like a viscous liquid.

Because the elasticity of a material is described in terms of a stress–strain relation, it is essential that the terms stress and strain be defined without ambiguity. Typically, two types of relation are considered. The first type deals with materials that are elastic only for small strains. The second deals with materials that are not limited to small strains. Clearly, the second type of relation is more general in the sense that it must include the first type as a special case.

For small strains, the measure of stress that is used is the Cauchy stress while the measure of strain that is used is the infinitesimal strain tensor; the resulting (predicted) material behavior is termed linear elasticity, which (for isotropic media) is called the generalized Hooke's law. Cauchy elastic materials and hypoelastic materials are models that extend Hooke's law to allow for the possibility of large rotations, large distortions, and intrinsic or induced anisotropy.

For more general situations, any of a number of stress measures can be used, and it is generally desired (but not required) that the elastic stress–strain relation be phrased in terms of a finite strain measure that is work conjugate to the selected stress measure, i.e., the time integral of the inner product of the stress measure with the rate of the strain measure should be equal to the change in internal energy for any adiabatic process that remains below the elastic limit.


International System

The SI unit for elasticity and the elastic modulus is the pascal (Pa). This unit is defined as force per unit area, generally a measurement of pressure, which in mechanics corresponds to stress. The pascal and therefore elasticity have the dimension L−1⋅M⋅T−2.

For most commonly used engineering materials, the elastic modulus is on the scale of gigapascals (GPa, 109 Pa).

Linear elasticity

As noted above, for small deformations, most elastic materials such as springs exhibit linear elasticity and can be described by a linear relation between the stress and strain. This relationship is known as Hooke's law. A geometry-dependent version of the idea [5] was first formulated by Robert Hooke in 1675 as a Latin anagram, "ceiiinosssttuv". He published the answer in 1678: "Ut tensio, sic vis" meaning "As the extension, so the force", [6] [7] [8] a linear relationship commonly referred to as Hooke's law. This law can be stated as a relationship between tensile force F and corresponding extension displacement x,

where k is a constant known as the rate or spring constant. It can also be stated as a relationship between stress σ and strain :

where E is known as the elastic modulus or Young's modulus.

Although the general proportionality constant between stress and strain in three dimensions is a 4th-order tensor called stiffness, systems that exhibit symmetry, such as a one-dimensional rod, can often be reduced to applications of Hooke's law.

Finite elasticity

The elastic behavior of objects that undergo finite deformations has been described using a number of models, such as Cauchy elastic material models, Hypoelastic material models, and Hyperelastic material models. The deformation gradient (F) is the primary deformation measure used in finite strain theory.

Cauchy elastic materials

A material is said to be Cauchy-elastic if the Cauchy stress tensor σ is a function of the deformation gradient F alone:

It is generally incorrect to state that Cauchy stress is a function of merely a strain tensor, as such a model lacks crucial information about material rotation needed to produce correct results for an anisotropic medium subjected to vertical extension in comparison to the same extension applied horizontally and then subjected to a 90-degree rotation; both these deformations have the same spatial strain tensors yet must produce different values of the Cauchy stress tensor.

Even though the stress in a Cauchy-elastic material depends only on the state of deformation, the work done by stresses might depend on the path of deformation. Therefore, Cauchy elasticity includes non-conservative "non-hyperelastic" models (in which work of deformation is path dependent) as well as conservative "hyperelastic material" models (for which stress can be derived from a scalar "elastic potential" function).

Hypoelastic materials

A hypoelastic material can be rigorously defined as one that is modeled using a constitutive equation satisfying the following two criteria: [9]

  1. The Cauchy stress at time depends only on the order in which the body has occupied its past configurations, but not on the time rate at which these past configurations were traversed. As a special case, this criterion includes a Cauchy elastic material, for which the current stress depends only on the current configuration rather than the history of past configurations.
  2. There is a tensor-valued function such that in which is the material rate of the Cauchy stress tensor, and is the spatial velocity gradient tensor.

If only these two original criteria are used to define hypoelasticity, then hyperelasticity would be included as a special case, which prompts some constitutive modelers to append a third criterion that specifically requires a hypoelastic model to not be hyperelastic (i.e., hypoelasticity implies that stress is not derivable from an energy potential). If this third criterion is adopted, it follows that a hypoelastic material might admit nonconservative adiabatic loading paths that start and end with the same deformation gradient but do not start and end at the same internal energy.

Note that the second criterion requires only that the function exists. As detailed in the main hypoelastic material article, specific formulations of hypoelastic models typically employ so-called objective rates so that the function exists only implicitly and is typically needed explicitly only for numerical stress updates performed via direct integration of the actual (not objective) stress rate.

Hyperelastic materials

Hyperelastic materials (also called Green elastic materials) are conservative models that are derived from a strain energy density function (W). A model is hyperelastic if and only if it is possible to express the Cauchy stress tensor as a function of the deformation gradient via a relationship of the form

This formulation takes the energy potential (W) as a function of the deformation gradient (). By also requiring satisfaction of material objectivity, the energy potential may be alternatively regarded as a function of the Cauchy-Green deformation tensor (), in which case the hyperelastic model may be written alternatively as


Linear elasticity is used widely in the design and analysis of structures such as beams, plates and shells, and sandwich composites. This theory is also the basis of much of fracture mechanics.

Hyperelasticity is primarily used to determine the response of elastomer-based objects such as gaskets and of biological materials such as soft tissues and cell membranes.

Factors affecting elasticity

For isotropic materials, the presence of fractures affects the Young and the shear moduli perpendicular to the planes of the cracks, which decrease (Young's modulus faster than the shear modulus) as the fracture density increases, [10] indicating that the presence of cracks makes bodies brittler. Microscopically, the stress–strain relationship of materials is in general governed by the Helmholtz free energy, a thermodynamic quantity. Molecules settle in the configuration which minimizes the free energy, subject to constraints derived from their structure, and, depending on whether the energy or the entropy term dominates the free energy, materials can broadly be classified as energy-elastic and entropy-elastic. As such, microscopic factors affecting the free energy, such as the equilibrium distance between molecules, can affect the elasticity of materials: for instance, in inorganic materials, as the equilibrium distance between molecules at 0 K increases, the bulk modulus decreases. [11] The effect of temperature on elasticity is difficult to isolate, because there are numerous factors affecting it. For instance, the bulk modulus of a material is dependent on the form of its lattice, its behavior under expansion, as well as the vibrations of the molecules, all of which are dependent on temperature. [12]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stress (mechanics)</span> Physical quantity that expresses internal forces in a continuous material

In continuum mechanics, stress is a physical quantity that describes the magnitude of forces that cause deformation. Stress is defined as force per unit area. When an object is pulled apart by a force it will cause elongation which is also known as deformation, like the stretching of an elastic band, it is called tensile stress. But, when the forces result in the compression of an object, it is called compressive stress. It results when forces like tension or compression act on a body. The greater this force and the smaller the cross-sectional area of the body on which it acts, the greater the stress. Therefore, stress is measured in newtons per square meter (N/m2) or pascal (Pa).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hooke's law</span> Physical law: force needed to deform a spring scales linearly with distance

In physics, Hooke's law is an empirical law which states that the force needed to extend or compress a spring by some distance scales linearly with respect to that distance—that is, Fs = kx, where k is a constant factor characteristic of the spring, and x is small compared to the total possible deformation of the spring. The law is named after 17th-century British physicist Robert Hooke. He first stated the law in 1676 as a Latin anagram. He published the solution of his anagram in 1678 as: ut tensio, sic vis. Hooke states in the 1678 work that he was aware of the law since 1660.

In materials science and continuum mechanics, viscoelasticity is the property of materials that exhibit both viscous and elastic characteristics when undergoing deformation. Viscous materials, like water, resist shear flow and strain linearly with time when a stress is applied. Elastic materials strain when stretched and immediately return to their original state once the stress is removed.

A neo-Hookean solid is a hyperelastic material model, similar to Hooke's law, that can be used for predicting the nonlinear stress-strain behavior of materials undergoing large deformations. The model was proposed by Ronald Rivlin in 1948. In contrast to linear elastic materials, the stress-strain curve of a neo-Hookean material is not linear. Instead, the relationship between applied stress and strain is initially linear, but at a certain point the stress-strain curve will plateau. The neo-Hookean model does not account for the dissipative release of energy as heat while straining the material and perfect elasticity is assumed at all stages of deformation.

In continuum mechanics, a Mooney–Rivlin solid is a hyperelastic material model where the strain energy density function is a linear combination of two invariants of the left Cauchy–Green deformation tensor . The model was proposed by Melvin Mooney in 1940 and expressed in terms of invariants by Ronald Rivlin in 1948.

Elastic energy is the mechanical potential energy stored in the configuration of a material or physical system as it is subjected to elastic deformation by work performed upon it. Elastic energy occurs when objects are impermanently compressed, stretched or generally deformed in any manner. Elasticity theory primarily develops formalisms for the mechanics of solid bodies and materials. The elastic potential energy equation is used in calculations of positions of mechanical equilibrium. The energy is potential as it will be converted into other forms of energy, such as kinetic energy and sound energy, when the object is allowed to return to its original shape (reformation) by its elasticity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hyperelastic material</span>

A hyperelastic or Green elastic material is a type of constitutive model for ideally elastic material for which the stress–strain relationship derives from a strain energy density function. The hyperelastic material is a special case of a Cauchy elastic material.

A strain energy density function or stored energy density function is a scalar-valued function that relates the strain energy density of a material to the deformation gradient.

In continuum mechanics, Lamé parameters are two material-dependent quantities denoted by λ and μ that arise in strain-stress relationships. In general, λ and μ are individually referred to as Lamé's first parameter and Lamé's second parameter, respectively. Other names are sometimes employed for one or both parameters, depending on context. For example, the parameter μ is referred to in fluid dynamics as the dynamic viscosity of a fluid(not the same units); whereas in the context of elasticity, μ is called the shear modulus, and is sometimes denoted by G instead of μ. Typically the notation G is seen paired with the use of Young's modulus E, and the notation μ is paired with the use of λ.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yeoh hyperelastic model</span>

The Yeoh hyperelastic material model is a phenomenological model for the deformation of nearly incompressible, nonlinear elastic materials such as rubber. The model is based on Ronald Rivlin's observation that the elastic properties of rubber may be described using a strain energy density function which is a power series in the strain invariants of the Cauchy-Green deformation tensors. The Yeoh model for incompressible rubber is a function only of . For compressible rubbers, a dependence on is added on. Since a polynomial form of the strain energy density function is used but all the three invariants of the left Cauchy-Green deformation tensor are not, the Yeoh model is also called the reduced polynomial model.

In physics, a Cauchy-elastic material is one in which the stress at each point is determined only by the current state of deformation with respect to an arbitrary reference configuration. A Cauchy-elastic material is also called a simple elastic material.

In continuum mechanics, the most commonly used measure of stress is the Cauchy stress tensor, often called simply the stress tensor or "true stress". However, several alternative measures of stress can be defined:

  1. The Kirchhoff stress.
  2. The Nominal stress.
  3. The first Piola–Kirchhoff stress. This stress tensor is the transpose of the nominal stress.
  4. The second Piola–Kirchhoff stress or PK2 stress.
  5. The Biot stress

Antiplane shear or antiplane strain is a special state of strain in a body. This state of strain is achieved when the displacements in the body are zero in the plane of interest but nonzero in the direction perpendicular to the plane. For small strains, the strain tensor under antiplane shear can be written as

In continuum mechanics, an Arruda–Boyce model is a hyperelastic constitutive model used to describe the mechanical behavior of rubber and other polymeric substances. This model is based on the statistical mechanics of a material with a cubic representative volume element containing eight chains along the diagonal directions. The material is assumed to be incompressible. The model is named after Ellen Arruda and Mary Cunningham Boyce, who published it in 1993.

The Gent hyperelastic material model is a phenomenological model of rubber elasticity that is based on the concept of limiting chain extensibility. In this model, the strain energy density function is designed such that it has a singularity when the first invariant of the left Cauchy-Green deformation tensor reaches a limiting value .

The acoustoelastic effect is how the sound velocities of an elastic material change if subjected to an initial static stress field. This is a non-linear effect of the constitutive relation between mechanical stress and finite strain in a material of continuous mass. In classical linear elasticity theory small deformations of most elastic materials can be described by a linear relation between the applied stress and the resulting strain. This relationship is commonly known as the generalised Hooke's law. The linear elastic theory involves second order elastic constants and yields constant longitudinal and shear sound velocities in an elastic material, not affected by an applied stress. The acoustoelastic effect on the other hand include higher order expansion of the constitutive relation between the applied stress and resulting strain, which yields longitudinal and shear sound velocities dependent of the stress state of the material. In the limit of an unstressed material the sound velocities of the linear elastic theory are reproduced.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rock mass plasticity</span>

Plasticity theory for rocks is concerned with the response of rocks to loads beyond the elastic limit. Historically, conventional wisdom has it that rock is brittle and fails by fracture while plasticity is identified with ductile materials. In field scale rock masses, structural discontinuities exist in the rock indicating that failure has taken place. Since the rock has not fallen apart, contrary to expectation of brittle behavior, clearly elasticity theory is not the last work.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Objective stress rate</span>

In continuum mechanics, objective stress rates are time derivatives of stress that do not depend on the frame of reference. Many constitutive equations are designed in the form of a relation between a stress-rate and a strain-rate. The mechanical response of a material should not depend on the frame of reference. In other words, material constitutive equations should be frame-indifferent (objective). If the stress and strain measures are material quantities then objectivity is automatically satisfied. However, if the quantities are spatial, then the objectivity of the stress-rate is not guaranteed even if the strain-rate is objective.

In continuum mechanics, a hypoelastic material is an elastic material that has a constitutive model independent of finite strain measures except in the linearized case. Hypoelastic material models are distinct from hyperelastic material models in that, except under special circumstances, they cannot be derived from a strain energy density function.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flow plasticity theory</span>

Flow plasticity is a solid mechanics theory that is used to describe the plastic behavior of materials. Flow plasticity theories are characterized by the assumption that a flow rule exists that can be used to determine the amount of plastic deformation in the material.


  1. Landau LD, Lipshitz EM. Theory of Elasticity, 3rd Edition, 1970: 1–172.
  2. Treloar, L. R. G. (1975). The Physics of Rubber Elasticity . Oxford: Clarendon Press. p.  2. ISBN   978-0-1985-1355-1.
  3. Sadd, Martin H. (2005). Elasticity: Theory, Applications, and Numerics . Oxford: Elsevier. p.  70. ISBN   978-0-1237-4446-3.
  4. de With, Gijsbertus (2006). Structure, Deformation, and Integrity of Materials, Volume I: Fundamentals and Elasticity. Weinheim: Wiley VCH. p. 32. ISBN   978-3-527-31426-3.
  5. Descriptions of material behavior should be independent of the geometry and shape of the object made of the material under consideration. The original version of Hooke's law involves a stiffness constant that depends on the initial size and shape of the object. The stiffness constant is therefore not strictly a material property.
  6. Atanackovic, Teodor M.; Guran, Ardéshir (2000). "Hooke's law". Theory of elasticity for scientists and engineers . Boston, Mass.: Birkhäuser. p.  85. ISBN   978-0-8176-4072-9.
  7. "Strength and Design". Centuries of Civil Engineering: A Rare Book Exhibition Celebrating the Heritage of Civil Engineering. Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology. Archived from the original on 13 November 2010.[ page needed ]
  8. Bigoni, D. Nonlinear Solid Mechanics: Bifurcation Theory and Material Instability. Cambridge University Press, 2012 . ISBN   9781107025417.[ page needed ]
  9. Truesdell, Clifford; Noll, Walter (2004). The Non-linear Field Theories of Mechanics (3rd ed.). Berlin Heidelberg New York: Springer-Verlag. p. 401. ISBN   978-3-540-02779-9.
  10. Sadd, Martin H. (2005). Elasticity: Theory, Applications, and Numerics . Oxford: Elsevier. p.  387. ISBN   978-0-1237-4446-3.
  11. Sadd, Martin H. (2005). Elasticity: Theory, Applications, and Numerics . Oxford: Elsevier. p.  344. ISBN   978-0-1237-4446-3.
  12. Sadd, Martin H. (2005). Elasticity: Theory, Applications, and Numerics . Oxford: Elsevier. p.  365. ISBN   978-0-1237-4446-3.