Elasticity, ability of a deformed material body to return to its original shape and size when the forces causing the deformation are removed. A body with this ability is said to behave (or respond) elastically.
To a greater or lesser extent, most solid materials exhibit elastic behaviour, but there is a limit to the magnitude of the force and the accompanying deformation within which elastic recovery is possible for any given material. This limit, called the elastic limit, is the maximum stress or force per unit area within a solid material that can arise before the onset of permanent deformation. Stresses beyond the elastic limit cause a material to yield or flow. For such materials the elastic limit marks the end of elastic behaviour and the beginning of plastic behaviour. For most brittle materials, stresses beyond the elastic limit result in fracture with almost no plastic deformation.
The elastic limit depends markedly on the type of solid considered; for example, a steel bar or wire can be extended elastically only about 1 percent of its original length, while for strips of certain rubberlike materials, elastic extensions of up to 1,000 percent can be achieved. Steel is much stronger than rubber, however, because the tensile force required to effect the maximum elastic extension in rubber is less (by a factor of about 0.01) than that required for steel. The elastic properties of many solids in tension lie between these two extremes.
he different macroscopic elastic properties of steel and rubber result from their very different microscopic structures. The elasticity of steel and other metals arises from short-range interatomic forces that, when the material is unstressed, maintain the atoms in regular patterns. Under stress the atomic bonding can be broken at quite small deformations. By contrast, at the microscopic level, rubberlike materials and other polymers consist of long-chain molecules that uncoil as the material is extended and recoil in elastic recovery. The mathematical theory of elasticity and its application to engineering mechanics is concerned with the macroscopic response of the material and not with the underlying mechanism that causes it.
Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription.
In a simple tension test, the elastic response of materials such as steel and bone is typified by a linear relationship between the tensile stress (tension or stretching force per unit area of cross section of the material), σ, and the extension ratio (difference between extended and initial lengths divided by the initial length), e. In other words, σ is proportional to e; this is expressed σ = Ee, where E, the constant of proportionality, is called Young’s modulus. The value of E depends on the material; the ratio of its values for steel and rubber is about 100,000. The equation σ = Ee is known as Hooke’s law and is an example of a constitutive law. It expresses, in terms of macroscopic quantities, something about the nature (or constitution) of the material. Hooke’s law applies essentially to one-dimensional deformations, but it can be extended to more general (three-dimensional) deformations by the introduction of linearly related stresses and strains (generalizations of σ and e) that account for shearing, twisting, and volume changes. The resulting generalized Hooke’s law, upon which the linear theory of elasticity is based, provides a good description of the elastic properties of all materials, provided that the deformations correspond to extensions not exceeding about 5 percent. This theory is commonly applied in the analysis of engineering structures and of seismic disturbances.