If you push the ends of a rubber rod toward each other, you are applying a compression force and can shorten the rod by some amount. If you pull the ends away from each other, the force is called tension, and you can stretch the rod lengthwise. If you tug one end toward you and the other end away from you, using what is called a shear force, the rod stretches diagonally.
Elastic modulus (E) is a measure of the stiffness of a material under compression or tension, although there is also an equivalent shear modulus. It is a property of the material and does not depend on the shape or size of the object.
A small piece of rubber has the same elastic modulus as a large piece of rubber. Elastic modulus, also known as Young’s modulus, named after British scientist Thomas Young, relates the force of squeezing or stretching an object to the resulting change in length.
What Are Stress and Strain?
Stress (σ) is the compression or tension per unit area and is defined as:
Here F is force, and A is the cross-sectional area where the force is applied. In the metric system, stress is commonly expressed in units of pascals (Pa), newtons per square meter (N/m2) or newtons per square millimeter (N/mm2).
When stress is applied to an object, the change in shape is called strain. In response to compression or tension, normal strain (ε) is given by the proportion:
In this case ΔL is the change in length and L is the original length. Normal strain, or simply strain, is dimensionless.
The Difference Between Elastic and Plastic Deformation
As long as the deformation isn’t too great, a material like rubber can stretch, then spring back to its original shape and size when the force is removed; the rubber has experienced elastic deformation, which is a reversible change of shape. Most materials can sustain some amount of elastic deformation, although it may be tiny in a tough metal like steel.
If the stress is too large, however, a material will undergo plastic deformation and permanently change shape. Stress can even increase to the point where a material breaks, such as when you pull a rubber band until it snaps in two.
Using the Modulus of Elasticity Formula
The modulus of elasticity equation is used only under conditions of elastic deformation from compression or tension. The modulus of elasticity is simply stress divided by strain:
with units of pascals (Pa), newtons per square meter (N/m2) or newtons per square millimeter (N/mm2). For most materials, elastic modulus is so large that it is normally expressed as megapascals (MPa) or gigapascals (GPa).
To test the strength of materials, an instrument pulls on the ends of a sample with greater and greater force and measures the resulting change in length, sometimes until the sample breaks. The sample’s cross-sectional area must be defined and known, allowing the calculation of stress from the applied force. Data from a test on mild steel, for example, can be plotted as a stress‑strain curve, which can then be used to determine the modulus of elasticity of steel.
Elastic Modulus From a Stress-Strain Curve
Elastic deformation occurs at low strains and is proportional to stress. On a stress-strain curve, this behavior is visible as a straight-line region for strains less than about 1 percent. So 1 percent is the elastic limit or the limit of reversible deformation.
To determine the modulus of elasticity of steel, for example, first identify the region of elastic deformation in the stress-strain curve, which you now see applies to strains less than about 1 percent, or ε = 0.01. The corresponding stress at that point is σ = 250 N/mm2. Therefore, using the modulus of elasticity formula, the modulus of elasticity of steel is
- Elastic modulus values range from about 1,500 psi (pounds per square inch) for rubber to about 175 million psi for diamond.
About the Author
H. L. M. Lee is a writer, electronics engineer and owner of a small high-tech company. He also produces web content and marketing materials, and has taught physics for students taking the Medical College Admissions Test. In addition, he has written numerous scripts for engineering and physics videos for JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments. H.L.M Lee earned his undergraduate engineering degree at UCLA and has two graduate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. More information about him and his work may be found on his web site at https://www.hlmlee.com/