Atomistic and multiscale analyses of brittle fracture in crystal lattices

Sulin Zhang, Ting Zhu, Ted Belytschko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Applicability of the Griffith criterion for predicting the onset of crack extension in crystal lattices is systematically evaluated using atomistic and multiscale simulations with a focus on the effects of crack size and lattice discreteness. An atomistic scheme is developed to determine the true Griffith load defined by the thermodynamic energy balance of crack extension for both finite-sized and semi-infinite crack models. For a model monolayer lattice, we identify a characteristic crack length (about ten lattice spacings) below which the Griffith fracture stress markedly overestimates the true Griffith load. Through a stability analysis of crack-tip bond separation, the athermal (nonthermally activated) loads of instantaneous fracture are determined, thereby yielding the estimated lattice trapping range. Our simulations show that the strength of lattice trapping depends on the interaction range of the interatomic force fields. Using the reaction pathway exploration method, we determine the minimum energy paths of bond breaking and healing at a crack tip, giving a more precise estimate of the lattice trapping range. The activation energy barriers governing the rate of kinetic crack extension are extracted from the minimum energy paths. Implications concerning the distinction between the athermal and Griffith fracture loads are discussed. Based on these results, a general criterion is established to predict the onset of crack growth in crystal lattices. In addition to taking into account the lattice trapping effect, this criterion is applicable to a large spectrum of crack sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number094114
JournalPhysical Review B - Condensed Matter and Materials Physics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 27 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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