Poisson’s Ratio for Boneheads, plus FAQ

  • Poisson’s ratio is a useful measure of how much a material deforms under stress (stretching or compression).
  • It is important for mechanical engineering as it allows materials to be chosen that suit the desired function.
  • This article provides a table of the most common materials and their corresponding Poisson’s ratio value.
  • There is also a handy FAQ to help you understand Poisson’s ratio more thoroughly.

Poisson’s ratio is a value that defines the amount of contraction that occurs when something is stretched, or the amount of expansion when an object is compressed. The contraction is always measured at 90o to the stretching or compression force.

To put it in very simple terms – in general, when an object is stretched it tends to get thinner and when it’s compressed it gets thicker. This is known as the Poisson Effect.

Poisson’s ratio is simply a ratio of the strain in the direction of stretching, against the perpendicular strain. Strain is defined as the deformation caused by stress.

The ratio is named after Simeon Poisson, a French engineer, physicist and mathematician, who defined the Poisson effect in his 1811 book Traité de Mécanique – The Mechanics of Materials.

Poisson’s ratio can be found by measuring the differences in thickness and length during stretching or compression, then using those values to calculate the strain in each direction. The lower the value, the more resistant the material is to deformation. The values typically range between 0.1 and 0.5 for most materials.

Now that we have a very basic definition, let’s look at things in a bit more detail.

The technical definition of Poisson’s Ratio

In technical terms, Poisson’s ratio is a ratio of the transverse contraction or expansion strain (perpendicular) against the longitudinal strain (i.e. in the same direction as the applied force).

Poisson’s ratio is denoted by the Greek letter nu (μ).

Mathematically:

μ = – εt / εl                           

Given that:

μ = Poisson’s ratio

εt = transverse (perpendicular) strain

εl = longitudinal strain

The minus sign allows for the fact that stretching deformation is taken as positive and compressive deformation is negative.

 

The longitudinal strain can be calculated by using the following formula:

εl = dl / L                             

Given that:

εl = longitudinal strain

dl = difference in length (m)

L = static length (m)

 

The transverse strain can be calculated by using the following formula:

εt = dr / r                             

Given that:

εt = transverse strain

dr = difference in radius (m)

r = initial radius (m)

 

Common values of Poisson’s Ratio

This table contains values for some commonly used materials:

Material Poisson’s Ratio
μ
Maximum Value: 0.5
Aluminum 0.334
Aluminum, 6061-T6 0.35
Aluminum, 2024-T4 0.32
Beryllium Copper 0.285
Brass, 70-30 0.331
Brass, cast 0.357
Bronze 0.34
Clay 0.41
Concrete 0.1 – 0.2
Copper 0.355
Cork 0
Glass, Soda 0.22
Glass, Float 0.2 – 0.27
Granite 0.2 – 0.3
Ice 0.33
Inconel 0.27 – 0.38
Iron, Cast – grey 0.211
Iron, Cast 0.22 – 0.30
Iron, Ductile 0.26 – 0.31
Iron, Malleable 0.271
Lead 0.431
Limestone 0.2 – 0.3
Magnesium 0.35
Magnesium Alloy 0.281
Marble 0.2 – 0.3
Molybdenum 0.307
Monel metal 0.315
Nickel Silver 0.322
Nickel Steel 0.291
Polystyrene 0.34
Phosphor Bronze 0.359
Rubber 0.48 – ~0.5
Sand 0.29
Sandy loam 0.31
Sandy clay 0.37
Stainless Steel 18-8 0.305
Steel, cast 0.265
Steel, Cold-rolled 0.287
Steel, high carbon 0.295
Steel, mild 0.303
Titanium (99.0 Ti) 0.32
Wrought iron 0.278
Z-nickel 0.36
Zinc 0.331

Table source: https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com

Spider graph: Influences of selected glass component additions on Poisson’s ratio of a specific base glass.

Influences of selected glass component additions on Poisson's ratio of a specific base glass.

FAQ

  • Is Poisson’s ratio constant for a material?

As long as the material is an exact match for the one tested, then yes, it will remain constant for that material.

  • Why is Poisson’s ratio important?

Understanding the effect that stress has on a material has a number of important applications, especially in mechanical engineering.

For instance, precision parts designed for aerospace engineering may need to withstand considerable stress without any serious deformation. It’s crucial that the correct material is chosen, and Poisson’s ratio will help with this choice.

Other important applications are in the design of high-pressure pipework systems, especially those that carry flammable or explosive liquids or gas.

  • What is Poisson’s ratio in concrete?

The ratio for concrete varies between 0.1 for high-strength concrete, to 0.2 for weaker mixes.

  • Does Poisson’s ratio have units?

No, it is considered to be dimensionless.

  • Is Poisson’s ratio negative

It is positive for most materials, as a minus sign is applied to the formula to yield a positive result when the material cross-section reduces under a stretching force. Some rare materials (auxetic materials) show an increase in cross-section when stretched. These will have a negative Poisson’s ratio.

  • What if Poisson’s ratio is zero?

In theory, a material that has a ratio of zero will display no transverse deformation when axial strain is applied. In practice, there are no known materials with a ratio of zero, but some get very close.

Cork shows almost zero lateral expansion upon compression, meaning the ratio is virtually zero. Other materials such as biological tissue – ligaments, cartilage, corneal and brain tissue, also approach a zero value of Poisson’s ratio.

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