# How and why are shock waves produced in breaking objects?

• autodidude
In summary, when a pole vaulter's pole breaks, shock waves travel through the pole and the vaulter's hands. These waves can cause pain if you are close to but not touching the surface of the object.
autodidude
The example I have in mind is when a pole vaulter's pole breaks. I remember at last year's Olympics one of the commentators made a commenf about thw shock waves thag would've been traveling through the pole and the guy's hands when it broke.

I did a search and it was mentioned in some comments on YouTube that it would feel kind of like (but worse) hitting a something with a baseball bat but neither object breaking. Would whatever hurts your hands in this case be the same as the above?

And one more example...when I cut the inner plastic tube of a pen it started to hurt my fingers more and more as it got shorter (kept cuting it in half).

Assuming these are all shock waves, how are they caused? What would be going on at a molecular level at the breaking point? also, would they be able to do damage if you are close to but not touching the surface of the object?

Thanks

when you bend a pole vaulters pole you need to apply a force to bend it a certain amount and if it snaps that energy is released and the pole tries to go back to being straight but it does this by oscillating back and forth. The oscillation is felt by the pole vaulter as he tries to hold onto his pole.

A simple analogy is to look at a diving board after someone has dived off. It oscillates back and forth until the energy is dissipated.

autodidude, It’s important to always use the correct scientific terms when describing physical actions. I am not sure the breaking of a pole vaulter’s pole creates a shock wave. Although solids do support the propagation of a shock wave, I could find no example given on this Wikipedia page:

“A shock wave (also called shock front or simply "shock") is a type of propagating disturbance. Like an ordinary wave, it carries energy and can propagate through a medium (solid, liquid, gas or plasma)”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_wave

Hopefully some real physicist can enlighten us all: Does the breaking of a pole vaulter’s pole cause a shock wave to propagate in it?

Not sure if this is a good resource but this blog post forum discussion I found talks about one break initiating a shock wave that in turn causes other breaks in the pole.

Re: why poles break...
by Decamouse » Sun May 16, 2010 9:43 am

Lets assume perfect world first - pole is designed and vaulter vaults such that the stress is perfectly distributed throughout - - it would fail in multiple places at the same instant -- real world -- on a vault where the energy input into the pole is at or even exceeds it capabilty to store - a fraqcture/failure occurs - could even occur it a few spots nearly at the same time --- if you had a super high speed camera you would probably see that one spot fails first - and the shock wave of this added to the already highly stressed areas initiates the other breaks

I have seen in testing where you could get a many as fiften other fracture points (not complete failure of the composite - but failure of layers) --

...

from blog:

http://www.polevaultpower.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=19848#p142082

jedishrfu said:
when you bend a pole vaulters pole you need to apply a force to bend it a certain amount and if it snaps that energy is released and the pole tries to go back to being straight but it does this by oscillating back and forth. The oscillation is felt by the pole vaulter as he tries to hold onto his pole.

A simple analogy is to look at a diving board after someone has dived off. It oscillates back and forth until the energy is dissipated.

So after it breaks, it's oscillating and it's this oscillating that causes the pain?

Bobbywhy said:
autodidude, It’s important to always use the correct scientific terms when describing physical actions. I am not sure the breaking of a pole vaulter’s pole creates a shock wave. Although solids do support the propagation of a shock wave, I could find no example given on this Wikipedia page:

“A shock wave (also called shock front or simply "shock") is a type of propagating disturbance. Like an ordinary wave, it carries energy and can propagate through a medium (solid, liquid, gas or plasma)”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_wave

Hopefully some real physicist can enlighten us all: Does the breaking of a pole vaulter’s pole cause a shock wave to propagate in it?

Yeah, I'm not knowledgeable to know the difference yet though! :p

jedishrfu said:
Not sure if this is a good resource but this blog post forum discussion I found talks about one break initiating a shock wave that in turn causes other breaks in the pole.

from blog:

http://www.polevaultpower.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=19848#p142082

Thanks, I came across that when I did the search but I'm not it sure it really explains what I'm after

autodidude said:
And one more example...when I cut the inner plastic tube of a pen it started to hurt my fingers more and more as it got shorter (kept cuting it in half).
\Thanks

How were you cutting the pen? A shorter segment is more rigid and the natural frequency of oscillation would be higher. But the increased level of pain may be an accumulative effect.

You really need to think of the definition of a shock wave. That, afaik, is what happens when a part of a substance is forced to travel faster than the propagation of sound (wave propagation) in the medium. (As with the shock wave produced in supersonic flight). When an object is broken, the speed of part of the object would need to be faster than the wave speed in the substance. I guess this is possible if the shape of the break is suitable but I can't actually think of an example.
Shock waves do not last long when traveling in a medium - they slow down and become normal sound waves within a wavelength or so.

jedishrfu said:
Here's a related article with spaghetti as the breakee:

http://plus.maths.org/content/spaghetti-breakthrough?src=aop
What that article fails to make clear is that the secondary break is in the reverse direction. This shows that it is not the simultaneous failure hinted at by Decamouse, but rather a result of recoil.

JustinRyan said:
How were you cutting the pen? A shorter segment is more rigid and the natural frequency of oscillation would be higher. But the increased level of pain may be an accumulative effect.

I used a pair of scissors. Ah, that makes sense.

sophiecentaur said:
You really need to think of the definition of a shock wave. That, afaik, is what happens when a part of a substance is forced to travel faster than the propagation of sound (wave propagation) in the medium. (As with the shock wave produced in supersonic flight). When an object is broken, the speed of part of the object would need to be faster than the wave speed in the substance. I guess this is possible if the shape of the break is suitable but I can't actually think of an example.
Shock waves do not last long when traveling in a medium - they slow down and become normal sound waves within a wavelength or so.

So then technically, it doesn't really make sense to speak of shock waves in breaking objects? It's actually these oscillations that have been mentioned that are dangerous?

Perhaps you could say it's sometimes the initial shock wave that starts the fracture, then the local stress breaks the obhect further and further. The shock wave explanation probably only applies to certain (brittle) materials like ceramics and not to most metals.

Sorry to bring this up again but I came across the usage of the term 'shock wave' again and not sure if it's the correct term. The context is the effects on impact on the human body during car crashes.

(~15:15)

'..the impact produces a shockwave that moves through the body similar to a sound wave moving through air...'

And he hits a gel with a mallet and there's a visible wave that moves through the gel - is that technically a shock wave? He also says the wave changes speed as it moves through the human tissue of differing densities producing 'complex wave interactions' that cause stress and strain in the tissues and organs.

What are these 'complex wave interactions' and how do they cause stress and strain?

Last edited by a moderator:

## 1. What are shock waves?

Shock waves are high-energy disturbances that travel through a medium, such as air or water, faster than the speed of sound. They are produced when an object moves faster than the speed of sound in that medium.

## 2. How are shock waves produced in breaking objects?

When an object is moving through a medium at a speed faster than the speed of sound in that medium, it creates a disturbance in the surrounding particles. As the object continues to move, this disturbance grows in intensity and creates a shock wave.

## 3. Why are shock waves produced in breaking objects?

Shock waves are produced in breaking objects because the breaking object is traveling through the medium at a speed faster than the speed of sound in that medium. This causes a disturbance in the particles of the medium, resulting in a shock wave.

## 4. What factors affect the production of shock waves in breaking objects?

The speed of the breaking object, the density of the medium, and the shape of the object can all affect the production of shock waves. Objects with a higher speed and greater density will produce stronger shock waves, while objects with a more streamlined shape will produce weaker shock waves.

## 5. How do shock waves impact the surrounding environment?

Shock waves can have various effects on the surrounding environment, depending on their intensity and duration. They can cause damage to nearby objects, disturb wildlife, and even affect human health. In some cases, shock waves can also be harnessed for beneficial purposes, such as in medical procedures or industrial applications.

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