New research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology  could ultimately help explain phenomena as varied as the breakdown of concrete under sudden stress and the effects of corrosion on various metal surfaces.

The team analyzed how the strength of a material can increase quite abruptly as the rate of strain applied to the material increases. This transition in the rate at which a material cracks or bends, called a flow-stress upturn, has been observed experimentally for many years, but its underlying mechanism has never been fully explained, the researchers say.

“The formulation is not specific to this particular defect,” Yildiz explains. Rather, she and her colleagues have figured out what they believe is a set of general principles. “We have proven that it works in this system,” she says.

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