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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain the limit where a deformation of material is elastic
  • Describe the range where materials show plastic behavior
  • Analyze elasticity and plasticity on a stress-strain diagram

We referred to the proportionality constant between stress and strain as the elastic modulus. But why do we call it that? What does it mean for an object to be elastic and how do we describe its behavior?

Elasticity is the tendency of solid objects and materials to return to their original shape after the external forces (load) causing a deformation are removed. An object is elastic    when it comes back to its original size and shape when the load is no longer present. Physical reasons for elastic behavior vary among materials and depend on the microscopic structure of the material. For example, the elasticity of polymers and rubbers is caused by stretching polymer chains under an applied force. In contrast, the elasticity of metals is caused by resizing and reshaping the crystalline cells of the lattices (which are the material structures of metals) under the action of externally applied forces.

The two parameters that determine the elasticity of a material are its elastic modulus and its elastic limit . A high elastic modulus is typical for materials that are hard to deform; in other words, materials that require a high load to achieve a significant strain. An example is a steel band. A low elastic modulus is typical for materials that are easily deformed under a load; for example, a rubber band. If the stress under a load becomes too high, then when the load is removed, the material no longer comes back to its original shape and size, but relaxes to a different shape and size: The material becomes permanently deformed. The elastic limit    is the stress value beyond which the material no longer behaves elastically but becomes permanently deformed.

Our perception of an elastic material depends on both its elastic limit and its elastic modulus. For example, all rubbers are characterized by a low elastic modulus and a high elastic limit; hence, it is easy to stretch them and the stretch is noticeably large. Among materials with identical elastic limits, the most elastic is the one with the lowest elastic modulus.

When the load increases from zero, the resulting stress is in direct proportion to strain in the way given by [link] , but only when stress does not exceed some limiting value. For stress values within this linear limit, we can describe elastic behavior in analogy with Hooke’s law for a spring. According to Hooke’s law, the stretch value of a spring under an applied force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force. Conversely, the response force from the spring to an applied stretch is directly proportional to the stretch. In the same way, the deformation of a material under a load is directly proportional to the load, and, conversely, the resulting stress is directly proportional to strain. The linearity limit (or the proportionality limit ) is the largest stress value beyond which stress is no longer proportional to strain. Beyond the linearity limit, the relation between stress and strain is no longer linear. When stress becomes larger than the linearity limit but still within the elasticity limit, behavior is still elastic, but the relation between stress and strain becomes nonlinear.

Questions & Answers

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Practice Key Terms 6

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 1. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12031/1.5
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