Continuum mechanics

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Continuum mechanics is a branch of mechanics that deals with the analysis of the kinematics and the mechanical behavior of materials modeled as a continuous mass rather than as discrete particles. The French mathematician Augustin Louis Cauchy was the first to formulate such models in the 19th century, but research in the area continues today.

Modeling an object as a continuum assumes that the substance of the object completely fills the space it occupies. Modeling objects in this way ignores the fact that matter is made of atoms, and so is not continuous; however, on length scales much greater than that of inter-atomic distances, such models are highly accurate. Fundamental physical laws such as the conservation of mass, the conservation of momentum, and the conservation of energy may be applied to such models to derive differential equations describing the behavior of such objects, and some information about the particular material studied is added through a constitutive relation.

Continuum mechanics deals with physical properties of solids and fluids which are independent of any particular coordinate system in which they are observed. These physical properties are then represented by tensors, which are mathematical objects that have the required property of being independent of coordinate system. These tensors can be expressed in coordinate systems for computational convenience.


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