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Physics and Chemistry of Solids Group

What does the Physics and Chemistry of Solids group do?

Our research group is primarily focused on solving real-world problems arising from an incomplete physical understanding of the response of materials to dynamic stimuli. We have a wide range of interests including both reactive (explosive) and inert materials; materials which may be brittle (diamond), plastic (metals) or viscoelastic (polymers); materials that are solids or fluids, or in-between (granular beds). We are interested in the processes that occur when materials are subjected to extreme conditions (pressure, temperature) and are taken beyond the limits of their endurance (yield, fracture, decohesion).

Typically, the materials and conditions we wish to study are not readily accessible using off-the-shelf equipment. A large fraction of our effort is devoted to developing novel instrumentation and diagnostic techniques to elucidate the physics of the subjects described above

What will you see at the Physics and Chemistry of Solids group exhibit?

Visitors will see a demonstration of rapid deflagration (burning) of a propellant which will then be used to fire a projectile. Using this demonstration, we will then discuss how the principles apply to rocketry.

What physics is used?

The first principle is that of the chemical rapid decomposition of the propellants leading to the production of large amounts of gas. The next principle is that of confined pressures, leading into Newton’s Laws of motions and impulse.

When this is applied to rockets, the principles then include those of conservation of momentum of the gases leaving the confined space and then parabolic flight under gravity.

Why is it useful?

In 2021 there were 135 successful launches into orbit with satellites being a key part of modern life from GPS to weather satellites. Similarly, 1998 the International Space Station has conducted nearly 3000 experiments from biology through education to space science requiring approximately 25 launches a year. More ground-based uses of the forces produced by rapid chemical decomposition include fireworks, ejector seats and mining.