CHESS’ Materials Solutions Network, Keeping Air Flight Safe

An engineering structure subjected to repeated loads—like an aircraft wing, bouncing up and down during flight—will eventually fail when a tiny fatigue crack begins and grows to a critical length. With the current understanding of how each of the billions of metallic crystals that make up an aircraft component is loaded, it isn’t possible to predict when such a crack will start or how fast and in what direction it will grow, once initiated.

Wings are therefore overdesigned, in response, making them much heavier than needed. This requires very stringent inspection intervals to manage fatigue and keep the thousands of aircraft that fly daily safe.

With emerging techniques developed at CHESS (Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source), or one of the five other high energy light sources around the world, it is becoming possible to use testing machines to load large aircraft components as they would be loaded in-flight, then interrogate them with high energy synchrotron x-rays. The x-rays measure how each individual metallic crystal is loaded and how the properties of that crystal change during each fatigue cycle.

The new Materials Solutions Network at CHESS (MSN-C), led by CHESS associate director Matthew P. Miller, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, provides dedicated access to two new x-ray beamlines at CHESS. They are the SMB, the structural materials beamline, and FMB, the functional materials beamline—exclusively for Air Force and other Department of Defense (DOD) materials researchers and their industrial collaborators.

SMB is optimized to examine engineering alloys and composites during service conditions. FMB is optimized to study the properties and processing (especially 3D printing) of soft materials emerging in a broad range of DOD applications, such as nanoparticle-reinforced functional polymers. These include new generations of low-cost, flexible lightweight electronics that can incorporate medical monitors and fitness sensors as well as power sources that convert body heat or motion into electricity. DOD researchers will have exclusive access to MSN-C, as well as the enhanced user support provided by the CHESS staff.

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$7.1 Million spanning 1 years