Geometry and physics of wrinkling

Phys Rev Lett. 2003 Feb 21;90(7):074302. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.90.074302. Epub 2003 Feb 19.


The wrinkling of thin elastic sheets occurs over a range of length scales, from the fine scale patterns in substrates on which cells crawl to the coarse wrinkles seen in clothes. Motivated by the wrinkling of a stretched elastic sheet, we deduce a general theory of wrinkling, valid far from the onset of the instability, using elementary geometry and the physics of bending and stretching. Our main result is a set of simple scaling laws; the wavelength of the wrinkles lambda approximately K(-1/4), where K is the stiffness due to an "elastic substrate" effect with a multitude of origins, and the amplitude of the wrinkle A approximately lambda. These could form the basis of a highly sensitive quantitative wrinkling assay for the mechanical characterization of thin solid membranes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Elasticity
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Polyethylene / chemistry
  • Skin Aging*
  • Tensile Strength


  • Polyethylene