Poisson's ratio over two centuries: challenging hypotheses

G. N. Greaves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (SciVal)


This article explores Poisson's ratio, starting with the controversy concerning its magnitude and uniqueness in the context of the molecular and continuum hypotheses competing in the development of elasticity theory in the nineteenth century, moving on to its place in the development of materials science and engineering in the twentieth century, and concluding with its recent re-emergence as a universal metric for the mechanical performance of materials on any length scale. During these episodes France lost its scientific pre-eminence as paradigms switched from mathematical to observational, and accurate experiments became the prerequisite for scientific advance. The emergence of the engineering of metals followed, and subsequently the invention of composites—both somewhat separated from the discovery of quantum mechanics and crystallography, and illustrating the bifurcation of technology and science. Nowadays disciplines are reconnecting in the face of new scientific demands. During the past two centuries, though, the shape versus volume concept embedded in Poisson's ratio has remained invariant, but its application has exploded from its origins in describing the elastic response of solids and liquids, into areas such as materials with negative Poisson's ratio, brittleness, glass formation, and a re-evaluation of traditional materials. Moreover, the two contentious hypotheses have been reconciled in their complementarity within the hierarchical structure of materials and through computational modelling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-58
JournalNotes and Records of the Royal Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 05 Sept 2013


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