Mechanical engineer Bo Song has worked on impact mechanics – the study of how force and pressure impact different materials, basically – for the better part of 30 years.
Since moving to Sandia’s Albuquerque campus eight years ago, Song has worked on a particular project: consolidating and growing the lab’s work on experimental impact mechanics, which had been relegated to a few small, disjointed labs across Sandia’s footprint.
“I think we needed to unite,” Song said.
Song said most experimental impact mechanics work focuses on either high-speed impacts (think ballistics) or low-speed impacts (collisions between two or more nearly static objects). What’s missing, Song said, is a focus on intermediate-speed impacts, which he said can include everything from car crashes to dropped cellphones. He said companies and government entities have sought this kind of testing for a wide range of materials, but good data has remained elusive.
“We don’t have this kind of apparatus that gave us this kind of data,” he said.
To help solve the problem, Song helped create such a device, known as a “Drop-Hopkinson Bar.” The first-of-its-kind device combines aspects of a split-pressure Hopkinson bar – which has been used to test impacts on a horizontal axis for decades – with a free-fall drop that allows it to test different kinds of impacts. Properly applied, Song said the device can test how all sorts of materials perform under a wide range of conditions.
“In theory, we can test any kind of material,” he said. “We have the capability.”
The impact mechanics lab’s work has a lot of real-world benefits, from testing containment for nuclear reactors to helping car manufacturers test crash-resistant metals. According to Sandia, about one-third of the lab’s customers come from outside the organization, including NASA and the U.S. Department of Defense. A partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy has allowed to test newly fabricated materials that could be used for experimental lightweight vehicles that could be used for ground transportation one day.
“They need to know if that material is suitable for a vehicle, in terms of strength and failure,” Song said.
Sandia is not the only lab with this capacity, Song said, but many other potential partners are following the work coming out of the local lab.
“We are one of the leaders around the world,” he said.
The lab’s budget is proprietary, but Song said the number of employees has grown over the past eight years. Where once Song worked by himself, there are now seven people working there, counting two summer interns.
After eight years in a space that Song characterized as a glorified storage room, the lab is expanding. A new space, nearly twice the size of the lab’s current facility, is expected to be complete by September.
“In the past eight years, we’ve made a lot of progress,” Song said. “We’ve grown a lot.”
Stephen Hamway covers economic development, health care and tourism for the Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.