The acoustic emission of fracture precursors, and the failure time of samples of heterogeneous materials (wood, fiberglass) are studied as a function of the load features and geometry. It is shown that in these materials the failure time is predicted with a good accuracy by a model of microcrack nucleation proposed by Pomeau. We find that the time interval δt between events (precursors) and the energy ε are power law distributed and that the exponents of these power laws depend on the load history and on the material. In contrast, the cumulated acoustic energy E presents a critical divergency near the breaking time τ which is E ∼ (τ-t/τ)-γ. The positive exponent γ is independent, within error bars, on all the experimental parameters.
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