Continuum mechanics deals with the physical properties of solids and fluids which are independent of any particular coordinate system in which they are observed. These properties are then represented by tensors, which are mathematical objects with the property of being independent of coordinate systems. This permits definition of physical properties at any point in the continuum, according to mathematically convenient continuous functions. The theories of elasticity, plasticity and fluid mechanics are based on the concepts of continuum mechanics.
Apart from the assumption of continuity, two other independent assumptions are often employed in the study of continuum mechanics. These are homogeneity (assumption of identical properties at all locations) and isotropy (assumption of directionally invariant vector properties). If these auxiliary assumptions are not globally applicable, the material may be segregated into sections where they are applicable in order to simplify the analysis. For more complex cases, one or both of these assumptions can be dropped. In these cases, computational methods are often used to solve the differential equations describing the evolution of material properties.
An additional area of continuum mechanics comprises elastomeric foams, which exhibit a curious hyperbolic stress-strain relationship. The elastomer is a true continuum, but a homogeneous distribution of voids gives it unusual properties.
Continuum mechanics deals with deformable bodies, as opposed to rigid bodies. A solid is a deformable body that possesses shear strength, sc. a solid can support shear forces (forces parallel to the material surface on which they act). Fluids, on the other hand, do not sustain shear forces. For the study of the mechanical behavior of solids and fluids these are assumed to be continuous bodies, which means that the matter fills the entire region of space it occupies, despite the fact that matter is made of atoms, has voids, and is discrete. Therefore, when continuum mechanics refers to a point or particle in a continuous body it does not describe a point in the interatomic space or an atomic particle, rather an idealized part of the body occupying that point.
In continuum mechanics a body is considered stress-free if the only forces present are those inter-atomic forces (ionic, metallic, and van der Waals forces) required to hold the body together and to keep its shape in the absence of all external influences, including gravitational attraction. Stresses generated during manufacture of the body to a specific configuration are also excluded when considering stresses in a body. Therefore, the stresses considered in continuum mechanics are only those produced by deformation of the body, sc. only relative changes in stress are considered, not the absolute values of stress.
Materials that exhibit body couples and couple stresses in addition to moments produced exclusively by forces are called polar materials.[page needed] Non-polar materials are then those materials with only moments of forces. In the classical branches of continuum mechanics the development of the theory of stresses is based on non-polar materials. 2b1af7f3a8