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Non-Linear Theory of Elasticity and Optimal Design

How to build safe economical machines and structures How to build proven reliable physical theory

First Edition

Leah W. Ratner



Amsterdam – Boston – Heidelberg – London – New – York – Oxford

Paris – San Diego – San Francisco – Singapore – Sydney – Tokyo

Table of Contents

Cover image

Title page

Copyright page




Part I: Principles and Methods of NLTE

1 Practical problems

2 Foundations of the non-linear theory of elasticity

3 Devising the non-linear theory of elasticity

4 Principles of logic in NLTE

5 Method of optimal structural design

6 Optimal structural design (examples)

7 Optimal simple beam

8 On mathematics in physics

9 On the nature of the limit of elasticity

10 The stress–strain diagram

11 On the nature of proof in physical theory

12 History of the theory of elasticity

13 On the principles of the theory of elasticity

United States Patent 5,654,900 (August 5, 1997) Method of and Apparatus for Optimization of Structures


1 Background of the invention

2 Summary of the invention

3 Description of illustrated exemplary teaching


Part II: Linear Theory of Infinitesimal Deformations

1 Principles of LTE

2 Stress

3 Deformation

4 Hooke’s Law

5 Geometric characteristics of plane areas

6 Combination of stresses

Part III: Optimization of typical structures

1 Introduction

2 Tension/compression

3 Torsion

4 Bending

5 Combined stresses

6 Continuous beam

7 Stability of thin shells

8 Elastic stability of plates

9 Dynamic stresses and the non-linear theory of elasticity

10 Impact stresses

11 Testing of materials

Appendix I Optimal design of typical beams

Appendix II

Appendix III Table for shaft calculation

Part IV: Further Discussions in the Theory of Elasticity

1 Graph analysis

2 Geometrical models of physical functions

3 The equation for the elastic line and the non-linear theory of elasticity

Part V: Philosophy and Logic of Physical Theory

1 Philosophical background of the non-linear theory of elasticity

2 Logic and physical theory

3 The rules of logic

4 Logic of construction in NLTE

5 The definitive logic

6 It is possible to prove physical theory

7 Notes on logic

8 Conclusion

9 Recapture of the central ideas


Subject Index



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Contemporary physics from its beginning in the 17th century has been progressing in two parallel directions, i.e. empirical and mathematical. One unresolved problem of epistemology is that these two branches are not really well combined in the scientific theories. Each of them has its role. The empirical methods are used for governing the facts concerning a phenomenon and testing the inferences of a hypothetical theory. Mathematical methods are used for description of the hypothetical physical ideas and making mathematical inferences from these hypotheses. The assumption is made that the mathematical inferences can be tested empirically and that such tests may perhaps not prove but at least validate the theory. Nevertheless empirical validation is insufficient for combining the methods. There is no proof for theories that remain in essence hypothetical. The successful alignment of essentially different methods can be achieved by employing logical structure as a mediating method.

In this work the author proposes logical structure as the frame of a physical theory that allows building a consistent provable theory. The theory presented in this work is a Non-Linear Theory of Elasticity. This theory has a logical frame that makes it a reliable foundation for structural analysis and design.

Part I of the book describes the general principles on which the non-Linear Theory of Elasticity was built. The theory has a new conception of strength and elastic stability of a structure. This part also reproduces the specification of the author’s US patent on the method of optimization of structures.

Parts II and III are devoted to the analysis of the current Linear Theory of Elasticity and the new Non-Linear Theory of Elasticity. Part III also analyzes typical structures such as bars, beams, shafts, columns, plates, and shells. The reader will also find there the important discussion on the distribution of elastic forces in a structure and a new hypothesis on the torsion of non-round bars.

Part IV considers some important methodological questions relating to the construction of a theory, such as graph analysis and the geometrical models of physical functions.

Part V discusses philosophical implications of the new methodology in science and discusses in length the definitive logic in the theory of elasticity. The important physical implication of this methodology is the need for a mathematical description of the domain of stable physical relations for a physical phenomenon.


It is one of the boasts of modern science that it is a truly open-ended intellectual system in which dissent is both welcomed and rewarded. The practitioner has been brought up on this idea and proudly repeats it until, perhaps, he finds himself on the side of dissent. Then the open ranks suddenly close and he finds himself isolated and alone, wondering how it happened that his careful adherence to the rules of the game has led to ostracism.

(L. Pearce Williams)

Non-Linear Theory of Elasticity and Optimal Design deals with developing and proving a new fundamental theory. Although the useful concepts and methods of the current Linear Theory of Infinitesimal Deformations remain, the basic physical concept of strength and elastic stability of a structure changes. The logical structure of the theory of elasticity, the concepts, the criterion of strength and elastic stability, the equation of deformation have been changed, and an equation for elastic stability was added. The method for optimizing the dimensions of a structure is new. The approach to mathematics in physical theory is changed. A new point of view on the role of logic in the construction of physical theory is presented. Logic becomes definitive.

The theory of elasticity is the foundation of structural design. An important characteristic of elastic relations is the limit of elasticity. The limit for an individual structure currently can be found only by testing the structure destructively. The reason is that linear theory by its nature cannot describe a limit, because a limit is not a property of a linear function. The non-linear theory presented in this book, on the other hand, describes limits for individual structures and allows optimization of structures.

A new concept of strength is associated with the non-linear theory of elasticity. The actual limit of elasticity of a structure, which reveals itself in the destruction of the structure, can be of different physical origins. It can be the limit of the material, but more often it is generated by the geometry of the structure. Both limits should be known for structural analysis and design to be successful. This book describes a simple non-destructive method of establishing minimal reliable dimensions of a structure.

This engineering problem is at the foundation of structural analysis and design. The safety and cost of a structure in the mechanical, civil and aerospace engineering fields depend on establishing minimal reliable dimensions for the structure. The problem, formulated in 1638 by Galileo, is to find the form of the generating curves so that the resistance of a section may be exactly equal to the tendency to rupture at that place. Galileo was unaware of the elastic properties of materials and did not describe relations mathematically.

The English physicist Robert Hooke discovered the existence of elastic properties of materials and structures in 1678. Since that time a continuous effort has been made to find a scientific method for predicting the limit of elastic relations and establishing safe dimensions of structures within that limit.

There are reasons for the fact that this optimization problem has not been solved although a mathematical method of optimization exists. If the problem could be solved using empirical, statistical and probabilistic methods, it would have been solved already, for there is no lack of empirical data. If it were possible to find a solution for the optimization problem within the framework of the established linear theory of elasticity, then it would have been done in the 19th century when the mathematical apparatus of linear theory was developed.

Solving the problem of structure optimization is possible only after a revision of the linear theory of elasticity, its logical structure, mathematical apparatus and physical foundation, which are presented in this book. Solving the problem is connected not only with the criticism of current theory, but also with the development of a new reliable method of construction and verification: the Non-Linear Theory of Elasticity (NLTE).

The new theory has a new criterion that designates fundamental changes. If the actually formulated laws of our physics can be shown to undergo change themselves, it can only be in reference to something else which is constant in relation to them (A Preface to Logic, Morris R. Cohen). Currently, the criterion for design calculations is the limit of elasticity of the material. NLTE factors in the rate of change of deformation. The main reason for choosing this criterion is that the limit of elasticity corresponds with a rapid increase of change in deformation. A mathematical description for the rate of change is missing in the linear theory. The new equation of elastic stability is obtained as a derivative of the basic equation of deformation. Not every description of deformation reflects elastic relations correctly. Here a new equation of deformation is presented and justified.

In the 20th century new technology to build high-rise buildings, airplanes, bridges, and the like, developed rapidly. But at the same time the science of structural design stagnated. Engineering disciplines such as Strength of Materials and the Theory of Elasticity have practically been closed to free independent scientific thought by standard-setting organizations that control scientific ideas and research, engineering publications and engineering practices. For example, one of the prominent standard-setting organizations, the American Institute of Steel Constructions (AISC), representing the interests of steel fabricators, has served as the link between the steel monopolies and the countless manufacturers and builders who use standard steel products. Scientific laws, which have a tendency to change, became the objects of governmental laws. Another reason for the slow development of science is the inertia of established theoretical principles.

Until now the theory of elasticity has been designed as the Linear Theory of Infinitesimal Deformations. The crisis of linear theory came to light at the end of the 19th century after the main principles and mathematical descriptions of the theory had been developed. Except in very simple cases, the demonstrations are less rigorous than those which form the Mathematical Theory of Elasticity, an exact science which is unable to furnish solutions for the majority of the practical problems which present themselves to the engineer in the design of machines and structures. (Strength of Materials, Arthur Morley, Eds. 1908 till 1954). Since the 1950s no major changes in this science have occurred despite the fact that the design process has become more complicated, uncertain and expensive.

Under pressure of the demands of steel construction technology and new ideas that have infiltrated the field, the AISC recently changed its manual and specifications. An allowable stress design (ASD) specification was substituted for the load resistance factor design (LRFD) specification. However, according to the AISC, in the new specification the philosophy of design remains the same. In the Steel Design Handbook, edited by Akbar R. Tamboll © 1997, the reason given for a new method is that until recently engineers were basing the analysis and design of structures on a linear theory of elasticity. On the whole, the results have been satisfactory. The buildings and bridges have withstood the test of time. Why then should one be concerned with the LRFD method? Finally, elastic analysis of all but the simplest of structures is complicated. Obviously the net result is a waste of material. For structures such as aircraft, where weight is of prime importance, the results may be even more serious. Further, since such an analysis would have little rational basis, a true estimation of the safety factor would become virtually impossible. This explanation still contains no rational basis for the LRFD method.

No theoretical foundation has been offered for the LRFD method. It has been maintained that the LRFD specification accounts for the factors that influence strength and loads by using a probabilistic basis and statistical methods. However, the probabilistic basis and a rational logical–mathematical deterministic basis are two different approaches. A statistical method has a rationale for its use when a reliable mathematical description of the elastic relations exists and statistics give the deviation of the empirical data from the mathematical description. Without sound theory a statistical method is just speculation. The problem with the linear theory of elasticity is that it distorts the relations it describes. No amount of statistical data and probabilistic method corrects that.

The need to revise the linear theory arises from the fact that this theory is fundamentally inconsistent with the experimental observations. Thus, linear theory identifies the elastic limit for a structure with the limit of elasticity of the material, while observations and experiments show that different structures made of the same material have significantly different limits depending on the geometry of the structure. In physics such disagreement raises doubt in the theory.

The Linear Theory of Infinitesimal Deformations is based on the assumption that because deformations are very small in comparison with the dimensions of a structure, the relationship between them can be described with a linear function. Here we will consider the Non-Linear Theory of Elasticity. One of the physical points of view in the new theory is that although deformations are small we should nevertheless make the necessary comparisons among them in order to detect the rapid changes that describe the limit of elasticity. Linear theory by its nature cannot describe changes in the rate of deformation, because the rate is a constant in a linear function.

The rules of logic are well suited for the task of construction and proving NLTE. This book contains extensive study and analysis of current approaches in the logic of science, as well as a new approach that proves to be constructive for NLTE and can be useful for the other branches of physics and for science in general.

For a successful engineering practice we need a consistent self-proving theory. Modification of the linear theory with formulas that have no foundation in the theory does not improve the theory or the design process. New principles that are logically, mathematically and physically justified have been known for a number of years. The National Science Foundation, the Energy Department (National Bureau of Standards), the AISC, the American Society of Civil and Mechanical Engineers, Argonne National Laboratory, and numerous scientists in the field of structural design have evaluated the new theory. The new theory and the method of optimization have encountered not one scientific objection. The method of optimization of structures has been issued a US patent. And, most importantly, the method includes a non-destructive experimental part to prove itself each time one uses it. There is no particular method of design that can survive without using the new knowledge of non-linear theory of elasticity. Overall the new theory and method can result in significant savings of materials, energy and engineering time. The method of optimization is a powerful analytical and experimental tool for structural analysis and design.


The author has two main purposes: to develop a non-linear theory of elasticity and to advance the logical apparatus for the new theory.

Initially the author’s main concern was the development of a method that would allow engineers to do comprehensive and reliable design of safe structures with the optimal correlation of dimensions. Then it became apparent that generalization and proof of such a method requires profound changes in the theory of elasticity. These changes in turn show that the logical structure of non-linear theory of elasticity departs fundamentally from the current principles of logic. The current principles are insufficient for constructing and proving a physical theory. The principles of logic in the non-linear theory of elasticity are explained and generalized for the first time in this work.

In my engineering practice I solved some specific problems of optimization of structures, at the same time realizing that the linear theory of elasticity does not provide means for optimizing structures. For instance, for a series of conical polishing tools with slit I had to find a correlation between cross-sectional and longitudinal dimensions for achieving the best springing properties for a series of tool sizes. I solved the problem by comparing the property that later was defined as geometrical stiffness of the particular tool size in the series with the corresponding property of a tool that was found to work satisfactorily. Although I solved this particular problem, the next optimization problem, for a different structure, again demanded creating a method and a criterion for comparing the elastic properties of similar structures. The conclusion was that until the engineer has a suitable optimization theory the solution of each individual problem will be a creative process that is lengthy and not necessarily successful.

In my search for a method of optimization it became clear that first of all we need a criterion for comparing the elastic properties of structures rather than some fixed criterion for the elastic properties of a material. The new common criterion for calculation was assigned to the rate of change of deformation. The rate of change of deformation is associated with the elastic behavior and elastic failure of a structure. The method of optimization was invented by establishing a criterion for comparing structures that is defined as the coefficient of elastic stability, by defining a characteristic called geometrical stiffness that describes elastic geometrical properties, and by describing the elastic relations that would reflect relations for a set of similar structures.

The problem with the construction of a new equation of deformation was psychologically connected to the false belief that if an equation describing physical relations is supported by numerous empirical facts it is, probably, a proper description. The realization that logical and physical correctness is different from mathematical and empirical correctness was the next big step on the road to the new theory. As a result of the more critical attitude to the mathematical procedures in physics a new equation of deformation was constructed. The equation becomes part of a logical structure that can be proven.

The limit of elasticity is associated with a rapid increase in deformation. The identification of the limit of elasticity of a structure requires a derivative equation describing the rate of change of deformation. This change of criterion by itself means that we are dealing with a new theory. If a derivative equation is to be explored the basic equation has to be non-linear. In contrast to the current linear theory of elasticity the new theory was named Non-linear Theory of Elasticity.

The experiment that was designed to test the new equation of deformation not only demonstrated that the method of comparative analysis of similar structures allows one to calculate and anticipate the individual limit of a structure, but also showed that there exist two limits of different origin. The real limit of elasticity can be either the limit of the material or the limit generated by the geometry of the structure, depending on which is smaller. The conclusion followed that the real limit of a structure is relative in nature. This is a new physical foundation of the theory of elasticity.

The way the theory was constructed also appears to be new in the methodology of science, and requires explanation. Analysis of the new theory showed that the logical principles of selecting the data, selecting a proposition, making an inference, establishing the domain and proving the logical structure are new as well. For selected initial conditions this logical structure allows us to make an inference that can be proven correct.

For the construction of a mathematically proven physical theory we have to find a known mathematical analog for the physical behavior in question. The deductive and inductive methods of logic were redefined with the purpose to attain certainty of logical judgment. Certainty of deductive inference relies on strict rules of deduction. Certainty of inductive inference is found under the umbrella of accepted universal laws that permit making logical inferences. Both methods are employed in constructing the statements and logical structure of the non-linear theory of elasticity. Those statements require a validation. For this purpose we use empirical and mathematical methods. Mathematical verification applies to the calculation of unobservable terms, calculations within a function, and the building inference of the described relations. Empirical validation applies to the observable terms that can be measured and to testing the results of inference in the interval of obvious changes.

Better differentiation of the areas of application of deductive and inductive methods of logic and the proper use of empirical and mathematical methods of validation allow one to build and prove physical theory.

Part I

Principles and Methods of NLTE

1 Practical problems

Design of a structure in the mechanical, civil and aerospace engineering fields is associated with specific engineering problems. Here are some of them:

(1) It is a time- and money-consuming process to establish safe and reliable dimensions to withstand structural forces. Currently, even with extensive and expensive technical calculations and destructive tests we cannot determine whether a particular structure can be made lighter, stronger and more predictable in a working environment. The new method can provide such analysis and we can inexpensively achieve optimization of the dimensions.

(2) Often manufacturing products come in a series of similar structures distinguished by their dimensions. Currently there is no method for comparing such structures. Even the idea of necessity of comparison of similar structures for the selection a structure is not part of current practice and had not appeared in the literature until 1986 when an article by the author appeared in Machine Design. An expensive research and development project for designing one structure does not guarantee the success of similar products. The new method allows for such comparison. The result obtained in a non-destructive test on one structure can then be used for optimizing a series of similar structures.

(3) Currently, no non-destructive method can predict limiting stress and deformation for a real structure. The new method allows for calculation or use of a non-destructive test to predict the individual limit of a structure.

(4) The new method allows for calculation of a mean value of structural forces when the external forces are unknown.

(5) The new method allows for calculation of the optimal correlation between length and cross-section. Note that although the proponents of LRFD (1994 specification of AISC) said that it is possible to establish such correlation with LRFD, they failed to explain how.

(6) Currently there is no common theory for the construction of different structures. Many different theories exist, such as for beam design (statically determinate and statically indeterminate), column design (short column and long column), shaft design (round cross-section and non-round cross-section), plate design (thick plates and thin plates), shell design, cylinder design.

(7) Linear theory has no reliable and comprehensive method for structure optimization. The majority of structures are overweight, some structures are underweight. Both problems, especially in combination, present serious obstacles to safety of design. Overweight parts of machines and structures demand similarly overweight supports. Vibration energy depends on the vibrating mass; overweight parts are better transmitters of vibration to other parts of a structure or to adjacent structures, which might not be designed for this propagation of vibration energy.

(8) Other negative effects of the tendency to construct overweight structures are economical and environmental. Comparison of the results of calculating dimensions with the linear and non-linear theories lead to the educated judgment that structures calculated with the standard method are at least 30% overweight. This means that for the same structure we need 30% more ore, more processing, more transportation, more metalworking machines, and more energy, resulting in more pollution of the environment.

2 Foundations of the non-linear theory of elasticity

Analysis of the sources of inadequacy of the linear theory of elasticity has led to the justification of the Non-Linear Theory of Elasticity. From a practical point of view, linear theory provides the equations needed to calculate the deformations and stresses in