Microbranching instability and the dynamic fracture of brittle materials

Eran Sharon and Jay Fineberg

The Racah Institute of Physics, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Givat Ram, Jerusalem, Israel

Received 31 May 1996

We describe experiments on the dynamic fracture of the brittle plastic, PMMA. The results suggest a view of the fracture process that is based on the existence and subsequent evolution of an instability, which causes a single crack to become unstable to frustrated microscopic branching events. We demonstrate that a number of long-standing questions in the dynamic fracture of amorphous, brittle materials may be understood in this picture. Among these are the transition to crack branching, ‘‘roughness’’ and the origin of nontrivial fracture surface, oscillations in the velocity of a moving crack, the origin of the large increase in the energy dissipation of a crack with its velocity, and the large discrepancy between the theoretically predicted asymptotic velocity of a crack and its observed maximal value. Also presented are data describing both microbranch distribution and evidence of a new three-dimensional to two-dimensional transition as the ‘‘correlation width’’ of a microbranch diverges at high propagation velocities.