Infinitely long isotropic Kirchhoff rods with helical centerlines cannot be stable

Andy Borum, Timothy Bretl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has long been known that every configuration of a planar elastic rod with clamped ends satisfies the property that if its centerline has constant nonzero curvature, then it is in stable equilibrium regardless of its length. In this paper, we show that for a certain class of nonplanar elastic rods, no configuration satisfies this property. In particular, using results from optimal control theory, we show that every configuration of an inextensible, unshearable, isotropic, and uniform Kirchhoff rod with clamped ends that has a helical centerline with constant nonzero curvature becomes unstable at a finite length. We also derive coordinates for computing this critical length that are independent of the rod's bending and torsional stiffness. Finally, we derive a scaling relationship between the length at which a helical rod becomes unstable and the rod's curvature, torsion, and twist. In a companion paper, these results are used to compute the set of all stable rods with helical centerlines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number023004
Pages (from-to)023004
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability

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