5 Methods to Test Material Durability with a STEM Lab

Sun, Dec 31, 2023 at 9:10AM

5 Methods to Test Material Durability with a STEM Lab

Pushing materials to their limits reveals volumes about mechanical performance and durability. But, at the same time, research-grade testing equipment carries astronomical price tags, fencing off hands-on learning. Our Mentis Sciences Engineering Toolkit (MSET) cracks open that barrier with inclusive, creative experiments mimicking essential industry tests at a fraction of the cost. Students grasp durability concepts intuitively by building, breaking, and learning from failure. These five simplified methods offer a window into our material world.

  1. Buckling: When Materials Meet Pressure

What happens when force meets resistance meets instability? Buckling. We stack bricks taller until suddenly that freestanding wall crumbles sideways. Compression testing explores similar concepts around structural integrity. Researchers determine the maximum force materials can take prior to buckling sideways and collapsing in on themselves —all without fracturing.

Our hands-on MSET experiment simulates those forces, demonstrating why some bridges or columns fail dramatically while others degrade slowly over time. Students derive stability thresholds mathematically, gaining insight into preventing catastrophic buckling scenarios in infrastructure. Comprehension builds better engineers.

See, materials contain inherent imperfections at microscopic scales. Lab-grown crystals, manufactured composites, even metals — all contain defects invisible to the naked eye. Those flaws concentrate stress forces. Under enough sustained load, those tiny cracks propagate. Initiation sparks a chain reaction of structural instability. Lattice matrices warp, composite layers delaminate internally. Sedately stable structures buckle violently without additional weight.

Visualize an aluminum beverage can — mostly impervious to daily loads until squeezed just past its critical point. Sudden indentations precede dramatic crumpling cascades. Now imagine a concrete column or steel beam within a skyscraper’s load-bearing skeleton. Engineers carefully optimize components to avoid rapid progressive collapses. But accurately predicting failure hinges on comprehending exactly how much load triggers the initial lattice instability at a molecular level. Compression tests supply that vision.

  1. Spring Stiffness: Measuring Resistance to Deforming

Springs seem simple enough. Yet their stiffness holds significance in everything from mattresses to medical devices to shock absorption in vehicles. Engineers meticulously model spring behavior under different loads to predict performance. Typically, this requires expensive desktop equipment. Our affordable MSET alternative guides students to study this durability more affordably. A little hands-on failure goes a long way in cementing connections between load thresholds, elasticity, kinetic energy and more. Kids grasp inherently how component stiffness enables designing durable products that bounce back.

Unraveling a spring’s secrets requires gauging its stretch and squish factor. Degree of deformation in response to applied loads determines appropriate applications. For instance, rigid coils efficiently transmit force in control handles and machinery. Conversely, shock absorbers employ more elastic springs to dampen and dissipate kinetic energy during impact. Customizing spring stiffness prevents both dangerous fracturing and ineffective bounce-back. Finding that sweet spot demands testing.

By incrementally loading mass values, then monitoring resulting compression or elongation, students can empirically determine failure conditions. Graphing data illustrates linear elastic versus plastic deformation ranges. Simple hands-on experiments yield engineering insights applied globally in manufactured products and buildings. Understanding springs seems basic, but has profound implications.

  1. Tension: When Materials Reach Their Breaking Point

Tensile testing stretches materials to spectacular breaking points. Essentially, how far can you pull, stretch or bend something before it fractures? This reveals the load-bearing limits of fibers, sheets, components and composites prior to structural failure. Our hands-on MSET experiment simplifies the process so future innovators can explore these concepts. By progressively overloading samples to failure and measuring that force, kids can discover firsthand how micro-level changes impact macro-level integrity.

Tensile trials stretch samples thinner and thinner until they snap. Studying materials under states of elevated stress divulges critical performance limits regarding elasticity, ductility, ultimate durability and more. For instance, a clay pot crackles apart under minimal strain. Yet carbon fiber composites withstand extensive deformation across alignment axes before disintegrating suddenly. Both fracture, but desired applications dictate optimal properties. Quantifying differentiate responses during controlled experiments empowers engineers to match materials with appropriate real-world uses.

  1. Dynamic Impact: Modeling Real-World Collisions

Fracture testing evaluates durability by dynamically causing material failures through destructive impulse forces. Think dropping weights onto surfaces with force sufficient to shatter them suddenly. This models behaviors of composites and structures subjected to collisions, bullets, explosives and other high-energy impacts in the real world. Our simplified MSET test measures these collision forces. Learners predict failure modes before releasing objects, then compare results to theories.

This type of testing takes on many forms spanning dramatic ballistic impacts to subtle stress corrosion accumulation over prolonged timeframes. Brittle substances like glass can withstand immense constant pressures yet shatter catastrophically when subjected to abrupt shocks. Ductile materials stretch under impulse spikes, absorbing collision forces elastically to deflect projectiles rather than penetrate. Evaluating responses under controlled laboratory load conditions informs optimal applications from transparent armor to phone screens. Do you want breakage protection from drops or scratch resistance against abrasion? Answers tell engineers which thermoplastic or fiberglass formulation fits specified criteria.

  1. Flexure: When Materials Bend Until They Break

Skyscrapers, bridges, airplanes — structures supporting massive dynamic loads seem almost magical. Yet flexural testing reveals the true limits underlying materials used in their construction. By bending beams or composite samples incrementally, researchers determine maximum load capacities before permanent beam deflection or complete fracture—insights that save lives. Traditional flexure tests demand expensive hydraulic equipment with limited classroom access. Our creative MSET experiment mimics this methodology on a budget.

Flexural trials explore complex stresses beyond simple tensile or compressive loading. Multi-axis tension/compression combinations push material limits in planes perpendicular to strain. Supported horizontal beams undergo vertical loading to model effects of gravity on bridges and joints. Twisted composites represent torsional shear scenarios. Stress/strain insights gained by incrementally ramping flex forces to failure in turn optimize construction across industries from aerospace to renewables. But costs bar most students from exposure. Our hands-on MSET solution modifies this important evaluation technique for affordability and accessibility.

Students take ownership of the experimental process while gaining proficiency around related concepts essential for engineering durable structures.

At Mentis Sciences, we champion the relentless, curious tinkerer in all of us. Our MSET kit removes barriers to testing technology, so all young innovators and change-makers can explore materials experientially. We can’t wait to see what experimental failures launch tomorrow’s transformative ideas. Science progresses through trials and errors. Progress begins the moment we unleash our imagination.

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