In mechanics and materials science, stress (represented by a lowercase Greek letter sigma – σ) is a physical quantity that expresses the internal forces that neighboring particles of a continuous material exert on each other. At the same time, strain is the measure of the deformation of the material, which is not a physical quantity.
Although it is impossible to measure the intensity of this stress, the external load and the area to which it is applied can be measured. Stress (σ) can be equated to the load per unit area or the force (F) applied per cross-sectional area (A) perpendicular to the force as:
When a metal is subjected to a load (force), it is distorted or deformed, no matter how strong the metal or light the load. If the load is small, the distortion will probably disappear when the load is removed. The intensity, or degree, of distortion, is known as strain. A deformation is called elastic deformation if the stress is a linear function of strain. In other words, stress and strain follow Hooke’s law. Beyond the linear region, stress and strain show nonlinear behavior. This inelastic behavior is called plastic deformation.
Stress is the internal resistance, or counterforce, of a material to the distorting effects of an external force or load. These counterforces tend to return the atoms to their normal positions. The total resistance developed is equal to the external load.
Thermal stresses exist whenever temperature gradients are present in a material, and different temperatures produce different expansions and subject materials to internal stress. This type of stress is particularly noticeable in mechanisms operating at high temperatures cooled by a cold fluid. One safety issue that is a long-term problem brought on by the aging of nuclear facilities is pressurized thermal shock (PTS). PTS is the shock experienced by a thick-walled vessel due to the combined stresses from a rapid temperature and/or pressure change.