Instability in dynamic fracture

J. Fineberg*, M. Marder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

345 Scopus citations


The fracture of brittle amorphous materials is an especially challenging problem, because the way a large object shatters is intimately tied to details of cohesion at microscopic scales. This subject has been plagued by conceptual puzzles, and to make matters worse, experiments seemed to contradict the most firmly established theories. In this review, we will show that the theory and experiments fit within a coherent picture where dynamic instabilities of a crack tip play a crucial role. To accomplish this task, we first summarize the central results of linear elastic dynamic fracture mechanics, an elegant and powerful description of crack motion from the continuum perspective. We point out that this theory is unable to make predictions without additional input, information that must come either from experiment, or from other types of theories. We then proceed to discuss some of the most important experimental observations, and the methods that were used to obtain the them. Once the flux of energy to a crack tip passes a critical value, the crack becomes unstable, and it propagates in increasingly complicated ways. As a result, the crack cannot travel as quickly as theory had supposed, fracture surfaces become rough, it begins to branch and radiate sound, and the energy cost for crack motion increases considerably. All these phenomena are perfectly consistent with the continuum theory, but are not described by it. Therefore, we close the review with an account of theoretical and numerical work that attempts to explain the instabilities. Currently, the experimental understanding of crack tip instabilities in brittle amorphous materials is fairly detailed. We also have a detailed theoretical understanding of crack tip instabilities in crystals, reproducing qualitatively many features of the experiments, while numerical work is beginning to make the missing connections between experiment and theory.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-108
Number of pages108
JournalPhysics Reports
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 1999


  • 46.50.+a
  • 62.20.Mk
  • 68.35.Ct
  • 81.40.Np
  • 83.50.Tq


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