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We study the genesis and the selective propagation of complex crack networks induced by thermal shock or drying of brittle materials. We use a quasistatic gradient damage model to perform large-scale numerical simulations showing that the propagation of fully developed cracks follows Griffith criterion and depends only on the fracture toughness, while crack morphogenesis is driven by the material's internal length. Our numerical simulations feature networks of parallel cracks and selective arrest in two dimensions and hexagonal columnar joints in three dimensions, without any hypotheses on cracks geometry, and are in good agreement with available experimental results. © 2014 American Physical Society.

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Physical Review Letters