- Experimental studies have identified an anomalous grain size dependence associated with the critical tensile pressure that a metal may sustain before catastrophic failure by cavitation processes. Here we derive the first quantitative theory (and its associated closed-form solution) capable of explaining this phenomena. The theory agrees well with experimental measurements and atomistic calculations over a very wide range of conditions. Utilizing this theory, we are able to map out three distinct regimes in which the critical tensile pressure for cavitation failure (i)increases with decreasing grain size in accordance with conventional wisdom, (ii)nonintuitively decreases with decreasing grain size, and (iii)is independent of grain size. The theory also predicts microscopic signatures of the cavitation process which agree with available data.