Nucleation fronts ignite the interface rupture that initiates frictional motion

Shahar Gvirtzman, Jay Fineberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Rapid rupture fronts—akin to earthquakes—mediate the transition to frictional motion. Once formed, their singular form, dynamics and arrest are well described by fracture mechanics. Ruptures, however, first need to be created within initially rough frictional interfaces. Hence, static friction coefficients are not well defined, with frictional ruptures nucleating over a wide range of applied forces. A critical open question is, therefore, how the nucleation of rupture fronts actually takes place. Here we experimentally show that rupture fronts are preceded by slow nucleation fronts—self-similar entities not described by fracture mechanics. They emerge from initially rough frictional interfaces at a well-defined stress threshold, evolve at the characteristic velocity and timescales governed by stress levels, and propagate within a frictional interface to form the initial rupture from which fracture mechanics take over. These results are of fundamental importance to questions ranging from earthquake nucleation and prediction to processes governing material failure.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1037-1042
Number of pages6
JournalNature Physics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


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