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Using Mechanical Testing of Disposable Plastic Cups to Illustrate Processing-Structure-Property Relationships in an Introductory Materials Laboratory Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Materials Division Technical Session 1

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Paper Authors


Kendra A. Erk Purdue University

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Kendra Erk is an Assistant Professor in the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

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Jerome Jamal Nash Purdue University

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Jerome Nash is a graduate student in the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University.

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Hannah K. Woods Purdue University

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Hannah Woods is an undergraduate student in the School of Materials Engineering at Purdue University.

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A hands-on activity was implemented in a sophomore-level materials engineering laboratory to illustrate how the structure and properties of polymeric materials are directly influenced by the method of processing. The mechanical properties of specimens cut from the walls of poly(ethylene terephthalate) cups, oriented parallel and perpendicular to the thermoforming direction, were measured in tension. The parallel sample displayed greater elastic moduli, yield stress, and predominantly ductile deformation behavior compared to the relatively weaker and more brittle perpendicular sample. This observed mechanical anisotropy was related to the processing-induced orientation of polymer molecules within the cup. Students’ learning outcomes were assessed and it was found that processing-structure-property relationships were communicated most effectively by encouraging the students to describe their ideas through molecular-scale sketches and further challenging them to design their own hypothesis-driven experiments as compared to a traditionally prescribed lab activity.

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