Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Instabilities as a Measurement Tool for Soft Materials



John A. Howarter, Christopher Stafford


Mechanical instabilities such as wrinkles, creases, and folds have long been viewed as a source of frustration for engineers and often a point of curiosity among scientists. Scientists aspire to understand the underlying physics behind the formation of these instabilities and how they might manipulate them for various endeavors, while engineers use this same understanding to design materials that inhibit or impede the formation of instabilities in critical applications. In recent years, a new movement in this community has emerged: harnessing these instabilities to provide critical insight into the properties of soft materials. We describe here the foundation of one particular analytical tool based on surface wrinkling and how this approach has been used to measure materials and systems that are inherently difficult to characterize. We also highlight some of specific challenges and opportunities we envision for this measurement tool. Within this framework, we believe that there is great potential for broadening the capabilities of this wrinkling metrology as the field of instabilities in soft matter continues to mature.
Soft Matter


metrology, wrinkling, instability, polymer, thin films


Howarter, J. and Stafford, C. (2010), Instabilities as a Measurement Tool for Soft Materials, Soft Matter, [online], (Accessed July 25, 2024)


If you have any questions about this publication or are having problems accessing it, please contact

Created November 1, 2010, Updated October 12, 2021