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Forced Crumpling* at University of Chicago

a crumpled 2-foot-high mountain made of 1/2 mil mylar 32 k bytes The stretching ridges in the sheet supply enough rigidity for the for 30 grams of material to span a volume over 2000 times that of the mylar, with no supporting structures.
Tetrahedra that pack to fill space. Download us. Print copies. Cut us out. Tape us together. Fill space. pdf file
  • How our numerical tetrahedron finds its lowest-energy shape: the motion picture, 1200 kb
  • networks of crumpled paper here
  • Eric Kramer's simulated crumpled sheet 
  • An osmotically deswollen red blood cell ghost, courtesy of Ted Steck, University of Chicago, 1995 or so.
  • Closing a bag: an induced ridge
  • The Swallowtail Fold

    Our work

    symmetric to antisymmetric folding
    Shape and symmetry of a fluid-supported elastic sheet, Haim Diamant and T. A. Witten.  In which a mysterious symmetry of the integrable folding shape of a compressed sheet on a heavy fluid is explored.  We point out the symmetry based on our previous mapping between the folding sheet and a sine-gordan chain.  We identify a generator of this symmetry within the Hamiltonian system that determines the buckling shape. Rev. E 88, 012401 (2013). JFI highlight2014.pdf
    folding setup
    Anomalously fast kinetics of lipid monolayer buckling, Naomi Oppenheimer, Haim Diamant and T. A. Witten.  We re-examine previous observations of folding kinetics of compressed lipid mono-layers in light of the accepted mechanical buckling mechanism recently proposed [L. Pocivavsek et al., Soft Matter, 2008, 4, 2019]. Using simple models, we set conservative limits on a) the energy released in the mechanical buckling process and b) the kinetic energy entailed by the observed folding motion. These limits imply a kinetic energy at least thirty times greater than the energy supplied by the buckling instability. We discuss possible extensions of the accepted picture that might resolve this discrepancy.  Updated on ArXiV 7April 2013.  To be submitted to Phys. Rev. E.
    Compression-induced folding of a sheet: an integrable system, Haim Diamant, Thomas A. Witten.  The apparently intractable shape of a fold in a compressed elastic film lying on a fluid substrate is found to have an exact solution. Such systems buckle at a nonzero wavevector set by the bending stiffness of the film and the weight of the substrate fluid. Our solution describes the entire progression from a weakly displaced sinusoidal buckling to a single large fold that contacts itself. The pressure decrease is exactly quadratic in the lateral displacement. We identify a complex wavevector whose magnitude remains invariant with compression. pdf graphic 1.9 meg. Phys. Rev. Lett. 107 164302 (2011. Press coverage

    "Nugget" layman summary

    wang simulation
    Rim curvature anomaly in thin conical sheets revisited, Jin Wang.   In which the "spontaneous curvature cancellation"  reported in a previous paper (see below) is found not to hold for sufficiently thin sheets.  For full paper, see
    Submitted to Physical Review E.

    incipient folds
    Instability of infinitesimal wrinkles against folding, Haim Diamant, Thomas A. Witten.  In which we show that any compression-induced buckling leading to sinusoidal wrinkling of a sheet on a fluid substrate is unstable against collapse to a finite region of the sheet.  The width of the buckled region scales as the inverse of the compressional displacement, which may be arbitrarily small compared to the buckling wavelength.  For preprint see
    This paper is superseded by Basile Audoly's paper and by the "integrable system" paper above.
    The compensation of Gaussian curvature in developable cones is local, Jin Wang and T. A. Witten. We report a curious numerical finding that we recently discovered about a d-cone, a thin sheet when pushed into a circular opening. We find that the Gauss Bonnet integral, which must add to zero over the whole sheet, in fact adds to zero within small parts of it. Submitted to Phys. Rev. E January 2009
    Spontaneous free-boundary structure in crumpled membranes: We investigate the strong curvature that appears at the boundaries of a thin crumpled elastic membrane. We account for these high-curvature regions in terms of the stretching-ridge singularity believed to dominate the structure of strongly deformed elastic membranes. Using a membrane fastened to itself to form a bag shape with a single stretching ridge, we show that the creation of points of high boundary curvature lowers the interior ridge's energy. In the limit of small thickness, the induced curvature becomes arbitrarily strong on the scale of the object size and results in sharp edges connecting interior vertices to the boundary. REVISED: We analyze these edges as conical sectors with no stretching. As the membrane size diverges, the edge energy grows as the square root of the central ridge energy. For comparison, we discuss the effect of truncating a stretching ridge at its ends. The effect of truncation becomes appreciable when the truncation length is comparable to the width of the untruncated ridge.

    preprint of invited paper for DeGennes memorial issue in J. Phys. Chem.

    11/22/08: The process of responding to the reviewers' comments led to major revisions and altered conclusions. The revised version is under copyright by the Journal of Chemical Physics and may not be posted here or on ArXiv. The original ArXiv preprint denoted v1 is still of interest though some of its conclusions are not borne out. These changes have been indicated in the revised abstract above. --T. Witten

    Force focusing in confined fibers and sheets: A sheet of office paper coiled into a mailing tube hugs the wall of the tube in order to minimize its bending. But the contact with the wall is incomplete; near the edge, the paper detaches or takes off from the wall and rejoins the cylinder only at the edge. Such detachment is a commonplace feature of coiled sheets or fibers small and large. Here we show that the detached region has a universal shape that touches down at an angle of 24.1 degrees. Moreover, the takeoff point experiences a focused force controlled by the length of the fiber or sheet. preprint on cond-mat .4 megabyte. J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 41 (2008) 132003, 10.1088/0022-3727/41/13/132003. Nature story.
    Stress Focusing in Elastic Sheets, T. A. Witten. In which many aspects of crumpling singularities are reviewed. preprint pdf, 3.1 megabyte; Reviews of Modern Physics 79 643 (2007), DOI: 10.1103/RevModPhys.79.643
    Numerical Investigation of Isolated Crescent Singularity, Tao Liang. In which inner a new intermiate length scale is exhibited for a crescent singularity resembling a d-cone. The both crescent central curvature and the crescent transverse curvature are found to scale differently with thickness. The width scaling is constent with that of the Podgorelev ring ridge. Submitted to Phys. Rev. E October 2006
    Spontaneous curvature cancellation in forced thin sheets, Tao Liang, Thomas A. Witten. In which the mean curvature at the supporting rim of a d-cone is shown to vanish under a wide range of conditions, via numerical and experimental measurements., Phys. Rev. E 73 046604 (2006) Physical Review E.

    For resolution of this puzzle, see "Rim curvature anomaly..." above.

    Crescent Singularities in Crumpled Sheets, Tao Liang and Thomas A. Witten. In which the the scaling of the anomalously wide crescent region is investigated. Phys. Rev. E 71, 016612 (2005)
    Crumpling a Thin Sheet Kittiwit Matan, Rachel Williams, Thomas A. Witten, Sidney R. Nagel Comments: revtex 4 pages, 6 eps figures Phys Rev. Letters 88, 076101 (2002) Squeezing a crumpled sheet of mylar into a cylinder reveals a surprizing logarithmic relaxation process and a force-vs-compression power law.
    Scaling of the buckling transition of ridges in thin sheets, Brian DiDonna submitted to Physical Review E 66, 016601 (2002). Conventional buckling plate analysis leads to numerically confirmed predictions about when, where, how and why a ridge buckles.
    Trapping of Vibrational Energy in Crumpled Sheets Ajay Gopinathan, T.A. Witten, S.C. Venkataramani Physical Review E. 65 036613 (2002). Elastic wave analysis and simulations show that vibrational energy should get trapped in the faces of crumpled sheets.
    Anomalous strength of membranes with elastic ridges B. A. DiDonna and T. A. Witten, which we show that the buckling strength of ridges is controlled by the same scaling laws that govern its resting energy, at Physical Review Letters, 87 206105 (2001). Also at 11/10/01
    Singularities, structures, and scaling in deformed m-dimensional elastic manifolds, B. A. DiDonna, S. Venkataramani, T. A. Witten and E. M. Kramer, which we demonstrate two distinct forms of energy condensation depending on the embedding dimension, at, Physical Review E 65, 016603 (2002)
    Limitations on the smooth confinement of an unstretchable manifold, a math paper showing that an M dimensional sheet can't fit into a small sphere without stretching or folding in a world of fewer than 2M dimensions
    Stress condensation in crushed elastic manifolds, Eric M. Kramer and Thomas A. Witten Phys. Rev. Lett. 78 1303-1306 (1997).
    LANL Archive abstract

    Alex Lobkovsky: "Structure of crumpled thin elastic membranes, PhD Dissertation, University of Chicago, August, 1996 gzipped postscript, 400 K, Adobe pdf, 1600 K

    "Properties of Ridges in Elastic Membranes" Alexander E. Lobkovsky and T. A. Witten, Physical Review E 55 1577-1589 (1997) eprint archive: cond-mat/9609068

  • Boundary Layer Analysis of the Ridge Singularity in a Thin Plate, Alexander E. Lobkovsky, Phys. Rev. E.. 53 3750 (1996) [ abstract].

  • When a thin elastic sheet is confined to a region much smaller than its size the morphology of the resulting crumpled membrane is a network of straight ridges or folds that meet at sharp vertices. A virial theorem predicts the ratio of the total bending and stretching energies of a ridge. Small strains and curvatures persist far away from the ridge. We discuss several kinds of perturbations that distinguish a ridge in a crumpled sheet from an isolated ridge studied earlier (A.~E. Lobkovsky, Phys. Rev. E. {\bf 53} 3750 (1996)). Linear response as well as buckling properties are investigated. We find that quite generally, the energy of a ridge can change by no more than a finite fraction before it buckles.

    Universal Power Law in the Noise from a Crumpled Elastic Sheet. Eric M. Kramer and Alexander E. Lobkovsky Phys Rev E. . 53 1465 (1995)PDF


    Scaling properties of stretching ridges in a crumpled elastic sheet

    "Asymptotic Shape of a Fullerene Ball,"Europhys. Lett 23 51-55 (1993) pdf 315 k


    stories on our work

  • 10 October 2011 Surprising link: University of Chicago news office, Science Daily e-science News.
  • 19 June 2008 Universal Law of CoilingNature 453 966 19 June 2008.
  • 10. April 2002 Physik zerknautschter Papierballen George Szpiro, 02:09, Neue ZŸrcher Zeitung
  • Thursday April 4, 2002 The science of scrunch ,Philip Ball Guardian newspaper, UK,

  • February 19, 2002, Tuesday Persistence pays, email from John Brunkhart
  • February, ?? 2002 New York Times SCIENCE DESK |
  • February 7, 2002 BBC website: Putting the squeeze on paper
  • June 1, 2000  James Glanz No Hope of Silencing Phantom Crinklers of Opera New York Times p. A14
  • June 1, 2000, Scientists probe loud Candy Wrappers Associated press wire service
  • Materials Center Nugget: Stretching Ridges in Crumpled Sheets
  • The Sounds of Crumpling by Ivars Peterson, Science News Volume 149, p. 376, (1996)
  • Cracking the Complex Case of Crumpling from U. of C. Chronicle February 2, 1996
  • An Unfolding Secret University of Chicago alumni magazine, April, 1996.
  • News and Views: Patterns of stress in Crumpled Sheets Gerhard GompperNature 386 439-440 (1997).
  • Our people

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    University of Chicago Materials Center

    This page was accessed about 4 times a day from outside the U of April, 1997

    * This material is partially based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. DMR 9528597 and DMR 9975533. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recomendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).


    T. Witten, 11/01