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Materials Research Tests Everything from Blocking Radiation to Stopping Speeding Bullets

Stella Bondi, assistant professor of engineering technology at Old Dominion University, describes her current research into optimization of materials in somewhat unique terms.

"We are searching for the best sandwich," she says.

Utilizing a $20,000 seed grant from the Virginia Space Consortium and ODU's Batten College of Engineering and Technology, Bondi is conducting experiments to determine what combination of materials works best at providing durable, yet lightweight, protection for a variety of structures on earth and in space.

That "sandwich-making," for example, has involved visiting cancer treatment laboratories after hours to test material combinations for radiation-blocking potential. In another facet of the research, Bondi is determining blast-resistance by shooting guns as part of a rigorous series of tests designed to see how various composite materials react to different stressors.

Bondi and a team of eight graduate students are looking to identify the mechanical properties of various material combinations for strength, stress/strain and torsion. In addition to radiation blocking and ballistic impact, materials are being tested for vibration and fire resistance.

The goal is to use fiber-reinforced polymers and other composites to demonstrate the benefits of radiation blocking in space, or for minimizing payload for construction materials, and use of construction resources.

"In doing this research, we're one part engineer, one part environmentalist and one part manager, looking for more environmentally friendly materials that still offer this performance," Bondi said. "Our ultimate goal is to research and develop the best combination of materials used for construction, power plants, hospitals, and military and police forces, where the optimization of these materials is prudent."

The results are already promising. The ballistics testing demonstrated that certain material combinations performed very well when hit with a bullet. And a barrier only three inches thick, composed of a combination of three materials, proved successful at blocking radiation. The laboratory where the tests were done had 24-inch walls to accomplish the same purpose, Bondi said.

"Our long-term goal is, after developing these materials, making them available to U.S. manufacturers by minimizing cost, identifying reliability factors and optimizing use," Bondi said.

Assisting Bondi are master's students in structural engineering, working together with Zia Razzaq, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and engineering technology students from ODU's ROTC units who have nuclear training. The results will comprise several students' senior research projects and theses in a new mix of sustainable materials.

This article was posted on: February 13, 2012

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