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Continuum Theory


The Continuum Concept

The atomic/molecular composition of matter is well established. On a small enough scale, for instance, a body of aluminum is really a collection of discrete aluminum atoms stacked on one another in a particular repetitive lattice. On an even smaller scale, the atoms consist of a core of protons and neutrons around which electrons orbit. Thus, matter is not continuous. At the same time, the physical space in which we live is truly a continuum, for mathematics teaches us that between any two points in space we can always find another point, regardless of how close together we choose the original pair. Clearly then, although we may speak of a material body as “occupying” a region of physical space, it is evident that the body does not totally “fill” the space it occupies. However, if we accept the continuum concept of matter, we agree to ignore the discrete composition of material bodies, and to assume that the substance of such bodies is distributed uniformly throughout, and completely fills the space it occupies. In keeping with this continuum model, we assert that matter may be divided indefinitely into smaller and smaller portions, each of which retains all of the physical properties of the parent body. Accordingly, we are able to ascribe field quantities such as density and velocity to each and every point of the region of space which the body occupies. The continuum model for material bodies is important to engineers for two very good reasons. On the scale by which we consider bodies of steel, aluminum, concrete, etc., the characteristic dimensions are extremely large compared to molecular distances so that the continuum model provides a very useful and reliable representation. Additionally, our knowledge of the mechanical behavior of materials is based almost entirely upon experimental data gathered by tests on relatively large specimens.

© 1999 by CRC Press LLC

viscoelasticity. the derivatives of such functions. it is often useful and convenient to deduce the field equations from their global counterparts. Moreover. we require the materials to be homogeneous. The other. plasticity. meaning that those properties are the same in all directions at a given point. In practice. emphasis is on the derivation of fundamental equations which are valid for all continuous media. of the space and time variables. that is.1. the fundamental equations of continuum mechanics mentioned above may be developed in two separate but essentially equivalent formulations. Inasmuch as this is an introductory textbook. © 1999 by CRC Press LLC . Later. One. the focus of attention is on the development of so-called constitutive equations characterizing the behavior of specific idealized materials. field quantities such as density and velocity which reflect the mechanical or kinematic properties of continuum bodies are expressed mathematically as continuous functions. the integral or global form. As a result of the continuum assumption.2 Continuum Mechanics The analysis of the kinematic and mechanical behavior of materials modeled on the continuum assumption is what we know as continuum mechanics. likewise will be continuous. and fluid mechanics proceed. First. leads to equations resulting from the basic principles being applied to a very small (infinitesimal) element of volume. or at worst as piecewise continuous functions. These equations are based upon universal laws of physics such as the conservation of mass. if they enter into the theory at all. In the second. derives from a consideration of the basic principles being applied to a finite volume of the material. And second. These equations provide the focal points around which studies in elasticity. we will relax this isotropy restriction to discuss briefly anisotropic materials which have important meaning in the study of composite materials. the principles of energy and momentum. to have identical properties at all locations. etc. In the first. Mathematically. There are two main themes into which the topics of continuum mechanics are divided. that the materials be isotropic with respect to certain mechanical properties. the perfectly elastic solid and the viscous fluid being the best known examples. a differential or field approach. we shall make two further assumptions on the materials we discuss in addition to the principal one of continuity.