Stability of spatial elastica in a gravitational field


This paper considers the behavior of a spatial elastica in a gravitational field. The slenderness of the system considered is such that the weight becomes an important consideration in determining elastic equilibrium configurations. Both ends of the elastica are clamped in an initially (planar) horizontal orientation at a fixed distance apart. However, one of the ends allows an increase in arc-length, that is, it is a sleeve joint. Thus, the total arc-length is the primary control parameter. This kind of elastica typically loses stability, resulting in out-of-plane deflections, when the total arc-length is increased beyond a critical value. A small mid-length torque can used to perturb a planar equilibrium configuration in order to test for stability. The aim of this study is to assess the effect of self-weight of the elastica (which is typically ignored) on promoting or delaying the loss of stability. To this end, it is useful to compare and contrast the results of orientation, that is, the system is configured in both an initial "upright" orientation and then in an "upside-down" orientation to highlight the influence of gravity. The results of the weightless elastica are used as a reference. Analysis is based on Kirchhoff's rod theory and Euler parameters, and the resulting set of governing differential equations are solved using a shooting method. The results from an experimental system using a slender superelastic wire made from Nitinol (Nickel Titanium Naval Ordnance Laboratory) exhibit close agreement with the analytical results. © 2012 World Scientific Publishing Company.