The fracture mechanics of sweet corn

“Sweet corn was our family’s weakness. We were prepared to resist atheistic communism, immoral Hollywood, hard liquor, gambling and dancing, smoking, fornication, but if Satan had come around with sweet corn we at least would have listened to what he had to sell.” ~ Garrison Keillor

In my opinion, one of the best parts of summer is enjoying a plate full of fresh sweet corn. My obsession with sweet corn may come as a result of genetics, as I come from a long line of sweet corn aficionados, or maybe it’s because I’m a Midwestern girl through and through. Either way, sweet corn season is in full swing, and with that comes a vague lesson in fracture mechanics.

Here you can see that a crack at or exceeding a critical length is created with a knife.

When stresses of a sufficient magnitude are applied to each end of the ear, the crack propagates and voila! You have ears of corn that will fit into your pot of boiling water.

Perhaps you’d rather be crunching numbers than munching on sweet corn. Here’s a lovely little equation to get you started:

I’m not too sure of the shape factor (Y) of sweet corn. Maybe one of the MSE professors can help us out with this?

You’ll have to excuse me — I have some sweet corn to eat.


About Caitlin
I'm a senior Materials Science & Engineering student at The Ohio State University.

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