Crushing a soda can from top to bottom is easier if it is dented initially on the side. Predicting the force needed to crush a dented can, however, which is of critical importance for structural reliance of materials engineering is quite challenging.
A team at the Harvard MRSEC led by Rubinstein, Hutchinson and Brenner investigated the crumpling of soda cans by controlling the denting and applied force until they buckled with a loud snap.
Through their systematic study of the axial denting and applied forces, they were able to map out a “stability landscape,” to understand the conditions where shell cylinders will buckle from instabilities. Because of the sudden-onset effect they were able to predict the response from soda cans to a more general universal behavior for cylindrical objects. Thus, researchers can use this stability map to predict the strength of a space rocket or other similar objects to a gentle poke from the side (adapted from Katherine Wright, contributing editor for Physics).