Nano-mechanics based modeling of lifetime distribution of quasibrittle structures

Zdeněk P. Bažant, Jia Liang Le

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26 Scopus citations


The statistics of structural lifetime under constant load are related to the statistics of structural strength. The safety factors applied to structural strength must ensure failure probability no larger than 10- 6, which is beyond the means of direct verification by histogram testing. For perfectly brittle materials, extrapolation from the mean and variance to such a small tail probability is no problem because it is known that the Weibull distribution applies. Unfortunately, this is not possible for quasibrittle materials because the type of cumulative distribution function (cdf) has been shown to vary with structure size and shape. These are materials with inhomogeneities and fracture process zones (FPZ) that are not negligible compared to structural dimensions. A probabilistic theory of strength of quasibrittle structures failing at macro-crack initiation, which can be experimentally verified and calibrated indirectly, has recently been deduced from the rate of jumps of atomic lattice cracks governed by activation energy barriers. This paper extends this nano-mechanics based theory to the distribution of structural lifetime. Based on the cdf of strength and a power law for subcritical crack growth rate, the lifetime cdf of quasibrittle structures under constant loads is derived. The lifetime cdf is shown to depend strongly on the structure size as well as geometry. It is found that, for the creep rupture case, the mean structural lifetime exhibits a very strong size effect, much stronger than the size effect on the mean structure strength. The theory also implies temperature dependence of the lifetime cdf. For various quasibrittle materials, such as industrial ceramics and fiber composites, it is demonstrated that the proposed theory correctly predicts the experimentally observed deviations of lifetime histograms from the Weibull distribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2521-2529
Number of pages9
JournalEngineering Failure Analysis
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Partial financial supports under Grant CMS-0556323 from the US National Science Foundation and Grant N007613 from Boeing, Inc., both to Northwestern University, are gratefully appreciated.


  • Fracture
  • Quasibrittle materials
  • Size effect
  • Statistics
  • Strength


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