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A D V A N C E D M A T E R I A L S & P R O C E S S E S | N O V E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 5

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Engineering departments at universities across the U.S. are using materials

testing to advance scientific research. Five of the most exciting innovations

under development are presented here.


igher education researchers are

developing advanced materials

that will improve building integ-

rity, enhance medical treatment for in-

fants, and drive biomedicine to the next

level. Key to each of these developments

is the testing process. Beloware five ways

that materials testing in being used in to-

day’s academic research environment.




While biomechanics has existed

for a number of years, much of the new

and exciting work in the field centers on

moving from classic materials testing

to testing at the cellular level. “Mech-

anobiology has become a hot field,”

says Ed Sander, an assistant professor

at University of Iowa’s department of

biomedical engineering. “You have to

develop new ways to mechanically test

very small things like a cell.”

Sander points to the challenge of

size in this work. “Classical materials

testing systems are designed to test big

things, strong things, and things that

are linear and don’t deform much,” he

says. “I am usually testing really small

samples, like a cornea, or a sheet of

cells, or a small piece of engineered

tissue.” In addition to size issues, tes-

ters must accommodate less than ideal

geometries. “Gripping is a big issue, as

is measuring low force accurately, all

while doing it in a sterile environment

continually over time,” says Sander.

Materials used to make biomed-

ical devices need to satisfy a range of

characteristics, including withstanding

fatigue and being nontoxic. “If you have

a hip replacement, a heart valve, or you

need a graft, the material must be in

spec and meet certain requirements,”

says Sander. “When you get to regener-

ative medicine, you need materials that

act like native tissue in the body.”

Testing is where ideas are proven.

“To diagnose when an aneurism might

rupture, we need to go beyond current

geometry-based standards. We need to

see how an excised piece of tissue con-

forms to loads and fails, and then some-

how connect that mechanical behavior

to the informationwe can get frommed-

ical imaging devices. If we do this, a cli-

nician could more accurately diagnose

whether a risky surgery should be un-

dertaken or not,” says Sander. “All of this

work leads to improving human health.”




Plastic compounding represents

most of the research activity at Univer-

sity of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass

Lowell), as new applications have re-

quirements that cannot be met by ex-

isting plastics. “Everything is tested, in-

cluding electrical, optical, and surface

properties,” says Robert Malloy, chair

of the plastics engineering depart-

ment. “But at the heart of each plastic

are mechanical properties.” Students

measure mechanical properties in ten-

sion, compression, shear, and flexure;

dielectric constant and dissipation fac-

tor; thermal behavior under stress; and

melt rheology.

Testing these newly designed

materials for mechanical properties is

critical to plastics research and for de-

veloping reliable design data. “We need

tests to be repeatable,” says Malloy.

“You can follow a standard test and get

good data, but that does not necessari-

ly work for design.”

Edward Sander, assistant professor, Uni-

versity of Iowa department of biomedical


Robert Malloy, plastics engineering

department chair, UMass Lowell.