Fracture Physics and Failure Analysis

Understanding how and why things break is key to preventing breaks from occurring—or, as is needed in rock quarrying or frozen food grinding, to break them more efficiently. To help clients prevent failures and extend the lifetime of aircraft, power plants, gas pipelines, and electronics, failure analysis experts in SRI's Center for Fracture Physics use advanced methods to quantify and analyze fracture surface topography. The Center’s materials scientists, mechanical engineers, computational physicists, and corrosion experts can reconstruct the history of a crack and retroactively determine the conditions that contributed to crack formation.

Every Crack Tells a Story

SRI’s Fracture Surface Topography Analysis (FRASTA) software tool reconstructs failure events in microscopic detail and analyzes materials and structures to determine when cracks nucleated and how fast they grew. FRASTA is available under license for use in failure analysis or materials design, or for training purposes. Clients include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Osaka Gas, and Chubu Electric Power.

SRI In the News

Military Spends Millions On ‘Mission: Impossible’ Devices

DARPA is putting in millions of dollars to develop self-destructing devices, similar to those seen on the "Mission: Impossible" television series and films. DARPA awarded SRI a $4.7 million contract to develop self-destructing batteries.

"Investigating What Went Wrong" -- Presentation at Cafe Scientifique

This article reports that about 175 people recently attended the May Cafe Scientifique on the SRI campus to hear Dr. Don Shockey, director of SRI's Center for Fracture Physics, speak about how material fractures, some microscopically small, can cause large failures.

Learning from Failure

This article reports that scientist Donald Shockey will discuss recent notable failures of manmade structures at Cafe Scientifique on May 10 at SRI headquarters in Menlo Park, California.


To rationalize continued safe-flight of the Space Shuttle Orbiter, root cause was sought for the failure of a thruster on the test stand. The work shows how a failure event can be replayed through fracture surface topography analysis and how information may be extracted from fracture surfaces.