Griffith's criterion in Linear elastic fracture mechanics (stress intensity factor)


Fracture mechanics is the field of mechanics concerned with the study of the propagation of cracks in materials. It uses methods of analytical solid mechanics to calculate the driving force on a crack and those of experimental solid mechanics to characterize the material’s resistance to fracture.

In modern materials science, fracture mechanics is an important tool in improving the mechanical performance of mechanical components. It applies the physics of stress and strain, in particular the theories of elasticity and plasticity, to the microscopic crystallographic defects found in real materials in order to predict the macroscopic mechanical failure of bodies. Fractography is widely used with fracture mechanics to understand the causes of failures and also verify the theoretical failure predictions with real life failures. The prediction of crack growth is at the heart of the damage tolerance discipline.

There are three ways of applying a force to enable a crack to propagate:
Mode I fracture – Opening mode (a tensile stress normal to the plane of the crack),
Mode II fracture – Sliding mode (a shear stress acting parallel to the plane of the crack and perpendicular to the crack front), and
Mode III fracture – Tearing mode (a shear stress acting parallel to the plane of the crack and parallel to the crack front).

Fracture mechanics was developed during World War I by English aeronautical engineer, A. A. Griffith, to explain the failure of brittle materials. Griffith’s work was motivated by two contradictory facts:
The stress needed to fracture bulk glass is around 100 MPa (15,000 psi).
The theoretical stress needed for breaking atomic bonds is approximately 10,000 MPa (1,500,000 psi).

A theory was needed to reconcile these conflicting observations. Also, experiments on glass fibers that Griffith himself conducted suggested that the fracture stress increases as the fiber diameter decreases. Hence the uniaxial tensile strength, which had been used extensively to predict material failure before Griffith, could not be a specimen-independent material property. Griffith suggested that the low fracture strength observed in experiments, as well as the size-dependence of strength, was due to the presence of microscopic flaws in the bulk material.

To verify the flaw hypothesis, Griffith introduced an artificial flaw in his experimental glass specimens. The artificial flaw was in the form of a surface crack which was much larger than other flaws in a specimen. The experiments showed that the product of the square root of the flaw length (a) and the stress at fracture (σf) was nearly constant, which is expressed by the equation shown here.

Related formulas


CStress intensity factor (Pa* m1/2) (dimensionless)
σfStress at fracture (Pa) (dimensionless)
aFlaw length (m) (dimensionless)