Elasticity (physics)

In physics and materials science, elasticity is the ability of a body to resist a distorting influence and to return to its original size and shape when that influence or force is removed. Solid objects will deform when adequate loads are applied to them; if the material is elastic, the object will return to its initial shape and size after removal. This is in contrast to plasticity, in which the object fails to do so and instead remains in its deformed state.

The physical reasons for elastic behavior can be quite different for different materials. In metals, the atomic lattice changes size and shape when forces are applied (energy is added to the system). When forces are removed, the lattice goes back to the original lower energy state. For rubbers and other polymers, elasticity is caused by the stretching of polymer chains when forces are applied.

Hooke's law states that the force required to deform elastic objects should be directly proportional to the distance of deformation, regardless of how large that distance becomes. This is known as perfect elasticity, in which a given object will return to its original shape no matter how strongly it is deformed. This is an ideal concept only; most materials which possess elasticity in practice remain purely elastic only up to very small deformations, after which plastic (permanent) deformation occurs.

In engineering, the elasticity of a material is quantified by the elastic modulus such as the Young's modulus, bulk modulus or shear modulus which measure the amount of stress needed to achieve a unit of strain; a higher modulus indicates that the material is harder to deform. The SI unit of this modulus is the pascal (Pa). The material's elastic limit or yield strength is the maximum stress that can arise before the onset of plastic deformation. Its SI unit is also the pascal (Pa).