Bringing Clarity to Cambridge's Teaching of Mechanical Deformation: Unifying Theory and Practice

Published on 31 January 2024

astonishingly simple

The Materials Science Department at the University of Cambridge is world-renowned. Known for producing high-impact research and well-equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories and research facilities, we were excited to meet with teaching fellow, Dr Rob Thompson (RT), to hear how he and his students have been using PIP (Profilometry-based Indentation Plastometry) in enhance their practicals.

“Since adopting PIP testing, we’ve changed our teaching of plasticity quite considerably.”

Plastometrex (PLX): What first interested you in PIP?

RT: “I have actually been aware of PIP testing since its inception, as I worked in the research group with Professor Bill Clyne and Dr. Jimmy Campbell where the technique was first developed. It’s been quite exciting to see it become the commercial venture that it is today.”

PLX: How has PIP enhanced your teaching methods or strategies in the classroom?

RT: “Since adopting PIP testing, we’ve changed our teaching of plasticity quite considerably. Before we had the benchtop machines, we weren’t able to explore plasticity in depth at a practical level. PIP provides an opportunity to really get students thinking deeply about plasticity by drawing out different aspects of plasticity and allowing them to apply their knowledge to real materials. The addition of the machine has therefore been a real advantage for me as someone interested in the plasticity of metals.”

rob students

“PIP provides an opportunity to really get students thinking deeply about plasticity by drawing out different aspects of plasticity and allowing them to apply their knowledge to real materials.”

PLX: What are the key benefits you see with using PIP in an educational setting?\

RT: “There are several advantages to the benchtop machine in an educational environment, one being that you can very quickly get students up and running, conducting their own tests on real materials, with very little intervention. It’s incredibly simple to use, the training required is minimal, as is the sample preparation – just a quick grind and polish, which they’d do anyway. It’s also a particularly valuable teaching tool for in-depth exploration of plasticity, the links between the underlying mechanisms of plasticity, the characterisation techniques that people use, and then the real-world applications of these.”

PLX: In what ways have you noticed an impact on student engagement or comprehension since incorporating our PIP testing into your teaching?

RT: “Through the use of PIP, students are now getting a very real experience of plastic testing. Being able to take the theory and academic concepts that they are seeing in lectures and then applying them to a real-world sample has been a real advantage.”

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“It really streamlines the testing process and neatly draws together so many different aspects of plasticity. It’s a very useful teaching tool.”

PLX: Who would you recommend PIP testing to?

RT: “I’d recommend PIP testing to anyone that either has a lot of testing to do or has an interest in explaining plasticity to people. It really streamlines the testing process and neatly draws together so many different aspects of plasticity. It’s a very useful teaching tool.”

PLX: Any final thoughts?

RT: “It’s just so incredibly quick and easy to use – astonishingly simple.”

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”PIP testing has really helped me to understand the fundamentals of plasticity.”

Before saying goodbye, our team also got the chance to sit down with Kevin Zetai Xu, one of Rob’s Materials Science students. He gave us his perspective on where PIP fits into his understanding of the topic and underscored how the methodology empowers him to make informed decisions in his studies.

Kevin: "I’ve found that PIP testing has really helped me to understand the fundamentals of plasticity. It’s been especially helpful for helping me to identify the nature of materials in some of our more advanced projects."

Thank you to Rob and Kevin for giving us the insight into how PIP is enhancing the understanding of plasticity in materials, while acting as a critical bridge connecting theoretical knowledge with practical application at the University of Cambridge's Materials Science Department.

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