Failure is supposed to be a bad thing. In materials science, however, understanding and predicting how a new fiber, composite material, or type of plastic breaks, snaps, melts, fractures, or rips can mean the difference between life and death. Engineers need to know if an armored steel plate will stop a high-velocity bullet or whether a specialized car-seat foam will effectively absorb the impact of a crash.
Destructive testing can also help scientists figure out how to enhance a given material’s properties, as with composites for aircraft wings or polymers used in electronics. Across the U.S., dozens of labs concoct elaborate and sometimes genuinely perilous tests in the name of safety and knowledge. PopSci spoke with materials scientists, CEOs, and researchers to find four of the most extreme labs in the nation.
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