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Marquis Scholar Eric Hauck’s summer research project could help furnish designers valuable information about which composite materials hold up well under stresses.

Hauck, a junior mechanical engineering major from Andreas, Pa., and a graduate of Tamaqua Area High School, participated in Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students collaborate closely with faculty members on research projects while earning a stipend. He worked with Laura A. Ruhala, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, on various methods to test the effects of low-velocity impacts on composites used in airplane fuselages, automobile bodies, and other applications.

Research in this area is needed because the reactions of composite materials, such as combinations of plastics and fiber, to impacts and strains are not as predictable as those of other materials, such as steel and aluminum.

“Much study is now being conducted on the resistance of composite materials to low-velocity impact,” explains Ruhala, who has published numerous papers on composite impacts in her field’s journals, including the Journal of Thermoplastic Composite Materials.

“For instance, on the wing of an aircraft, a technician may drop a hammer. No damage appears on the surface, so the technician may assume that the drop has not degraded the material,” Ruhala continues. “However, composite materials are different than metals in that there may be substantial strength and stiffness degradation, though damage is not externally apparent. This is an inherently dangerous situation.”

Hauck’s contribution included indentation testing and compression testing of composite-laminated plates.

“The research also could help someone choose the right composite material for the application they’re doing,” he says. “The composites we were looking at are designed for the tensions present in certain purposes. It’s good to see how they’re affected by runaway debris, for example. If the fiberglass body of a Corvette were bumped by a runaway shopping cart and later involved in an accident, it would be good to know how much strength had been taken out by the earlier incident. It’s the same with an airplane, where parts of the wing are loaded with tension and compression during turbulence.”

Hauck is a member of the Lafayette chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the College’s mini-Baja Racing Team. He belongs to the Lafayette Concert Choir and the Lafayette Christian Fellowship. Hauck is a charter member of the “Dry Surfers” living group in Keefe Hall, Lafayette’s newest student residence. The group’s 19 members share an interest in technology and substance-free living.

Categorized in: Academic News