One of my favorite classes I took as a civil engineer is CE 334. Technically, it’s called “Mechanical Behavior of Materials” but everyone in the department likes to refer to it as “the class where you break stuff” because the lab component is all about applying load to various materials until they reach failure. We stretch metal until it pulls like taffy and breaks (tensile test), we mix concrete by hand and then crush it (compression test), we play around with strain gauges, test frames, and more. It’s a really fun lab where you learn actual testing methods used in industry to oversee the quality of building projects.

Probably the best part of the class, though, is the final project. We spend about half of the semester in labs organized by the instructor, and then the second half of the class we get to plan and carry out our own investigation of material properties. We pick what we want to investigate, we design the experiment, we are given a small budget to purchase materials for the tests, we schedule time with the testing equipment, and we analyze and present our results. My group chose to look at how the strength of wood is affected by being repeatedly soaked and dried. We went to Lowe’s and bought a few 2×4’s, cut them to size, and then set up a soaking basin and learned how to use the geotech oven. Then for two weeks we switched our samples from wet to dry or from dry to wet every day. After we had properly treated all of our samples, we used the universal testing machine (UTM) to perform a 4-point bending test until the sample failed.

I learned a lot about the process of designing and executing my own testing regimen through this class, and I had a ton of fun working with my group on what ended up being a really fun and successful project.