In physics, deformation is the continuum mechanics transformation of a body from a reference configuration to a current configuration. A configuration is a set containing the positions of all particles of the body.
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A deformation can occur because of external loads, intrinsic activity (e.g. muscle contraction), body forces (such as gravity or electromagnetic forces), or changes in temperature, moisture content, or chemical reactions, etc.
Strain is related to deformation in terms of relative displacement of particles in the body that excludes rigid-body motions. Different equivalent choices may be made for the expression of a strain field depending on whether it is defined with respect to the initial or the final configuration of the body and on whether the metric tensor or its dual is considered.
In a continuous body, a deformation field results from a stress field due to applied forces or because of some changes in the temperature field of the body. The relation between stress and strain is expressed by constitutive equations, e.g., Hooke's law for linear elastic materials. Deformations which cease to exist after the stress field is removed are termed as elastic deformation. In this case, the continuum completely recovers its original configuration. On the other hand, irreversible deformations remain. They exist even after stresses have been removed. One type of irreversible deformation is plastic deformation, which occurs in material bodies after stresses have attained a certain threshold value known as the elastic limit or yield stress, and are the result of slip, or dislocation mechanisms at the atomic level. Another type of irreversible deformation is viscous deformation, which is the irreversible part of viscoelastic deformation.
In the case of elastic deformations, the response function linking strain to the deforming stress is the compliance tensor of the material.