Article | Published:

Experiments in catastrophe


Two new theories of evolutionary instability are outlined. When applied to highly optimised engineering structures, they predict that buckling strengths can be dramatically eroded by small unavoidable manufacturing imperfections: this is confirmed by tests on stiffened panels of box-girder bridges. A related analysis yields a spectacular picture of the hyperbolic-umbilic catastrophe.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Thorn, R., Stabilité Structurelle et Morphogénèse (Benjamin, New York, 1972); Topology, 8, 313–335 (1969).

  2. 2

    Zeeman, E. C., Applications of catastrophe theory, Tokyo International Conference on Manifolds (in the press).

  3. 3

    Thompson, J. M. T., and Hunt, G. W., A General Theory of Elastic Stability (Wiley, London, 1973).

  4. 4

    Thompson, J. M. T., and Hunt, G. W., J. appl. Math. Phys. (in the press).

  5. 5

    Zeeman, E. C., A catastrophe machine, in “Towards a Theoretical Biology”, 4 (edit. by Waddington, C. H.) (Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 1972).

  6. 6

    Huseyin, K., Nonlinear Theory of Elastic Stability (Noordhoff, Leyden, 1974).

  7. 7

    Zeeman, E. C., in Lectures on Mathematics in the Ltfe Sciences 7 (Am. Math. Soc., Providence, in the press).

  8. 8

    Zeeman, E. C., Times Lit. Suppl., December 10, 1556–7 (1971).

  9. 9

    Thompson, J. M. T., and Shorrock, P. A., J. Mech. Phys. Solids, 23, 21–37 (1975).

  10. 10

    Lyttleton, R. A., The Stability of Rotating Liquid Masses (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1953).

  11. 11

    Ledoux, P., in Handbuch der Physik, II (edit. by Flugge, S.), (Springer, Berlin, 1958).

  12. 12

    Thompson, J. M. T., and Hunt, G. W., Engineering Optimization, 1, 99–110 (1974).

  13. 13

    Thompson, J. M. T., Tulk, J. D., and Walker, A. C., in Proc. Harvard Symp. Buckling of Structures (Springer, in the press).

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.