The dynamics of rapid fracture: Instabilities, nonlinearities and length scales

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The failure of materials and interfaces is mediated by cracks, almost singular dissipative structures that propagate at velocities approaching the speed of sound. Crack initiation and subsequent propagation - the dynamic process of fracture - couples a wide range of time and length scales. Crack dynamics challenge our understanding of the fundamental physics processes that take place in the extreme conditions within the almost singular region where material failure occurs. Here, we first briefly review the classic approach to dynamic fracture, namely linear elastic fracture mechanics (LEFM), and discuss its successes and limitations. We show how, on the one hand, recent experiments performed on straight cracks propagating in soft brittle materials have quantitatively confirmed the predictions of this theory to an unprecedented degree. On the other hand, these experiments show how LEFM breaks down as the singular region at the tip of a crack is approached. This breakdown naturally leads to a new theoretical framework coined 'weakly nonlinear fracture mechanics', where weak elastic nonlinearities are incorporated. The stronger singularity predicted by this theory gives rise to a new and intrinsic length scale, ℓnl. These predictions are verified in detail through direct measurements. We then theoretically and experimentally review how the emergence of ℓnl is linked to a new equation for crack motion, which predicts the existence of a high-speed oscillatory crack instability whose wavelength is determined by ℓnl. We conclude by delineating outstanding challenges in the field.

Original languageEnglish
Article number046501
JournalReports on Progress in Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • crack mechanics
  • dynamic fracture
  • instabilities
  • material failure
  • nonlinear elasticity
  • singularities

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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