 # Stress (mechanics)

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In continuum mechanics, stress is a physical quantity that describes forces present during deformation. For example, an object being pulled apart, such as a stretched elastic band, is subject to tensile stress and may undergo elongation. An object being pushed together, such as a crumpled sponge, is subject to compressive stress and may undergo shortening. The greater the force and the smaller the cross-sectional area of the body on which it acts, the greater the stress. Stress has dimension of force per area, with SI units of newtons per square meter (N/m2) or pascal (Pa).

Quick facts: Stress, Common symbols, SI unit, Other u...
Stress Residual stresses inside a plastic protractor are revealed by the polarized light.
Common symbols
σ
SI unitpascal
Other units
psi, bar
In SI base unitsPa = kgm−1s−2
Dimension${\mathsf {L}}^{-1}{\mathsf {M}}{\mathsf {T}}^{-2}$ Close

Stress expresses the internal forces that neighbouring particles of a continuous material exert on each other, while strain is the measure of the relative deformation of the material. For example, when a solid vertical bar is supporting an overhead weight, each particle in the bar pushes on the particles immediately below it. When a liquid is in a closed container under pressure, each particle gets pushed against by all the surrounding particles. The container walls and the pressure-inducing surface (such as a piston) push against them in (Newtonian) reaction. These macroscopic forces are actually the net result of a very large number of intermolecular forces and collisions between the particles in those molecules. Stress is frequently represented by a lowercase Greek letter sigma (σ).

Strain inside a material may arise by various mechanisms, such as stress as applied by external forces to the bulk material (like gravity) or to its surface (like contact forces, external pressure, or friction). Any strain (deformation) of a solid material generates an internal elastic stress, analogous to the reaction force of a spring, that tends to restore the material to its original non-deformed state. In liquids and gases, only deformations that change the volume generate persistent elastic stress. If the deformation changes gradually with time, even in fluids there will usually be some viscous stress, opposing that change. Elastic and viscous stresses are usually combined under the name mechanical stress.