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sa z Structures

The dislocation mechanism,* which was originally postulated by Sir Geoffrey Taylor in
1934, has been the subject of intensive academic research over the last thirty years. It turns
out to be an extraordinarily subtie and complicated affair. What takes place inside so
apparently simple a thing as a piece of metal seems to be quite as clever as many of the
mechanisms in living biological tissues. Yet the funny thing is that this clever mechanism
cannot possibly be purposive, if only because Nature has nothing, so to speak, to gain from
it, since she never makes any structural use of metals, which very seldom occur native in
the metallic state any- way. However this may be, dislocations in metals have been of
enormous benefit to engineers and might almost have been in- vented for their benefit,
since they not only result in metals being tough butalso enable them to be forged and
worked and hardened.
Artificial plastics and fibrous composites have other work of fracture mechanisms which
are quite different from those in metals but which are fairly effective. Biological materials
seem to have developed methods of achieving high works of fracture which are very
cunning indeed. That in timber, for instance, is exceptionally efficient, and the work of
fracture of wood is, weight for weight, better than that of most steels.+
Let us now go on to discuss how the strain energy in a resilient structure manages to get
turned into work of fracture. If you like, whatis the real reason why things break ?
Griffith — or how to live with cracks and stress concentrations
Ony rollin's berter than pitchin' wi' superfeecial cracks in the tail-shaft. Rudyard Kipling,
Bread upon the Waters (1895)
Ás we said at the beginning of this chapter, all technological structures contain cracks and
scratches and holes and other de-
*See The New Science of Strong Materials, Chapters 3 aná 9, for an ele- mentary account of
the dislocation mechanism; for a fuller description see, for instance, 7he Mechanical
Properties of Matter by Sir Alan Cottrell (John Wiley, 1964 etc.).
TÁgain, see The New Science of Strong Materials (second edition), Chapter 8.
. Strain energy and modern fracture mechanics ¿º_¡
fects; ships and bridges and aircraft wings are liable to all sorts of accidental dents and
abrasions and we have to leamn to live with them as safely as may be, in spite of the fact
that, according to Inglis, the local stress at many of these defects may be well above the
official breaking stress of the material.
How and why we are generally able to live with these high stresses without catastrophe
was propounded by A. A. Griffith (1893-1963) in a paper which he published in 1920, just
twenty- five years after Kipling's splendid story about a crack. Since Griffith was only a
young man in 1920, practically nobody paid any attention. In any case Griffith's approach
to the whole prob- lem of fracture by way of energy, rather than force and stress, was not
only new at the time but was quite foreign to the climate of enginecring thinking, then and
for many years afterwards. Even nowadays too many engineers do not really understand
what Griffith"s theory is all about,
What Griffith was saying was this. Looked at from the energy point of view, Inglis's stress
concentration is simply a mechanism (like a zip-fastener) for converting strain energy into
fracture energy, just as an electric motor is simply a mechanism for con- verting electrical
energy into mechanical work or a tin-opener is simply a mechanism for using muscular
energy to cut through a tin. None of these mechanisms will work unless it is continually
supplied with energy of the right sort. The stress concentration is quite good atits job but, if
it is to keep on prising the atoms of a material apart, then it needs to be kept fed with strain
energy. I£ the supply of strain energy dries up, the fracture process stops.
Now consider a piece of elastic material which is stretched and then clamped at both ends
so that, for the present, no mechanical energy can get in or out. Thus we have a closed
system contammg just so much strain energy.
H a crack is to propagate through this stretched material then the necessary work of
fracture will have to be paid for in energy and the terms are strictly cash. H, for
convenience, we consider our specimen to be a plate of material one unit thick, then the
energy bill will be YL where W = work of fracture and L = length of crack. Note that this is
an energy debt, an item on the debit side of the energy account, although as a matter of fact
no credit