The shadow optical method of caustics has been applied to the measurement of the bulging out of the surface of aluminum alloy 7075-T6 in the vicinity of a blunt notch in a single edge notch tensile sample after a compression overload and during compression fatigue. The size and shape of the caustic were found to be sensitive functions of the amount of elastic and plastic strain in the vicinity of the notch. Examination of the caustic during application and after release of the overload shows the elastic zone to be larger and more circular than the plastic zone, as predicted. A crack was propagated through the plastic zone using only far-field cyclic compression loading: the crack was self-arresting at the edge of the elasticplastic boundary created by the initial compression overload. The size of the plastic zone as measured by the caustic was found to agree with the maximum length of the crack. The actual surface profile in the vicinity of the notch was measured and its shape was used along with geometrical arguments to develop a model for interpretation of the caustics results. These results indicate that the caustics technique can be used to detect the presence of a plastic zone at the tip of a notch after a compressive overload, and that the size of this zone as measured by caustics is approximately equal to the size as determined by subsequent fatigue crack propagation.

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