Beyond the Fold: Experimentally Traversing Limit Points in Nonlinear Structures

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Recent years have seen a paradigm shift regarding the role of nonlinearities and elastic instabilities in engineering science and applied physics. Traditionally viewed as unwanted aberrations, when controlled to be reversible and well-behaved, nonlinearity can enable novel functionalities, such as shape-adaptation and energy harvesting. The analysis and design of novel structures that exploit nonlinearities and instabilities has, in part, been facilitated by advances in numerical continuation techniques. An experimental analogue of numerical continuation, on the other hand, has remained elusive. Traditional quasi-static experimental methods control the dis-placement or force at one or more load-introduction points over the test specimen. This approach fails at limit points in the control parameter, as the immediate equilibrium beyond limit points is statically unstable, causing the structure to snap to a different equilibrium. Here, we propose a quasi-static experimental path-following method that can continue along stable and unstable equilibria, and traverse limit points. In addition to controlling the displacement at the main load-introduction point, the technique relies on overall shape control of the structure using additional actuators and sensors. The proposed experimental method enables extended testing of the emerging class of structures that exploit nonlinearities and instabilities for novel functionality.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2233
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2020


  • experimental mechanics
  • nonlinear structures
  • experimental path-followingq
  • structural stability


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