Molecular dynamics simulations are used to analyze shock propagation in amorphous and crystalline polyethylene. Results for the shock velocity Us are compared to predictions from Pastine’s equation of state and hydrostatic theory. The results agree with Pastine at high impact velocities. At low velocities the yield stress becomes important, increasing the shock velocity and leading to anisotropy in the crystalline response. Detailed analysis of changes in atomic order reveal the origin of the anisotropic response. For shock along the polymer backbone, an elastic front is followed by a plastic front where chains buckle with a characteristic wavelength.
Shock perpendicular to the chain backbone can produce plastic deformation or transitions to different orthorhombic or monoclinic structures, depending on the impact speed and direction.
Tensile impact does not produce stable shocks: Amorphous systems craze and fracture while for crystals the front broadens linearly with time.