Kimberley Mac Donald, Mechanical Engineering, Ph.D. Thesis Defense
The complexity and multiscale nature of material microstructures introduces significant intricacies to many mechanics problems for which we do not have a full theoretical understanding. Under loading, these microstructures can introduce significant nonlinearities that cannot be described sufficiently by current theories and models. This leads us to consider experiments we could perform to improve our understanding of such effects. This thesis describes the design of experiments exploring two aspects of material microstructure effects: (i) crack propagation and renucleation in soft brittle polymers and (ii) interparticle forces in granular materials.
First, experimental and analysis methods are developed to study fracture mechanics in soft brittle polymers with the goal of developing a more detailed understanding of the effects of microstructural heterogeneities on crack propagation and renucleation in three-dimensions. To better understand the complexity of fracture processes in networked polymers, experiments on crack propagation in thin soft polymers using confocal microscopy images are conducted. The effects of engineered microstructural heterogeneities such as inclusions in materials can be studied if we can produce such engineered systems and understand the interparticle interactions. To this end, a method to manufacture volumetrically speckled spheres in-house with controlled diameters was developed. Additionally, an experimental method combining confocal microscopy with digital volume correlation (DVC) was used to study interparticle force transmission in 3D.