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A fast current pulse causes a material to heat and undergo rapid expansion. We calculate the response of a cylindrically shaped material to a pulse on the microsecond time scale. The first step is to obtain the breathing modes of elastic oscillation of the cylinder. These modes are calculated using a Rayleigh–Ritz variational method introduced by Demarest for cubes. The boundary conditions are derived, which give the amplitude of each elastic mode in response to the sudden heating. The results are illustrated by calculations on a station arrester made of a ZnO ceramic. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.