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Phase-field models, sometimes referred to as gradient damage or smeared crack models, are widely used methods for the numerical simulation of crack propagation in brittle materials. Theoretical results and numerical evidences show that they can predict the propagation of a pre-existing crack according to Griffith’ criterion. For a one-dimensional problem, it has been shown that they can predict nucleation upon a critical stress, provided that the regularization parameter be identified with the material's internal or characteristic length. In this article, we draw on numerical simulations to study crack nucleation in commonly encountered geometries for which closed-form solutions are not available. We use U- and V-notches to show that the nucleation load varies smoothly from that predicted by a strength criterion to that of a toughness criterion when the strength of the stress concentration or singularity varies. We present validation and verification numerical simulations for both types of geometries. We consider the problem of an elliptic cavity in an infinite or elongated domain to show that variational phase field models properly account for structural and material size effects. Our main claim, supported by validation and verification in a broad range of materials and geometries, is that crack nucleation can be accurately predicted by minimization of a nonlinear energy in variational phase field models, and does not require the introduction of ad-hoc criteria.

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Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids

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