How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 49

When you drop a glass on a hard floor, why does it sometimes break and sometimes not?
When the glass hits the floor, the floor exerts all of its force on the part of the glass that actually touches the floor. That small part of the glass accelerates upward quickly and comes to rest. The remainder of the glass isn't supported by the floor and continues downward. However the glass is relatively rigid and parts of it begin to exert forces on one another in order to stop the whole glass from bending. These internal forces can be enormous and they can rip the glass apart. Glass is a remarkable material; it never dents, it only breaks. As the glass tries to come to a stop, the internal forces may bend it significantly. It will either tolerate those bends and later return to its original shape or it will tear into pieces. Which of the two will occur depends critically on the precise locations and amounts of the forces. If the forces act on a defect on the glass's surface, it will crack and tear and the glass is history. If the forces all act on strong parts of the glass, it may survive without damage.

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