Plexiglas breaks in weird ways (science writing on the side)

by Stephanie Chasteen on February 12, 2010

In my copious spare time (!), I do some freelance writing assignments.  I recently got a fun assignment from my acquaintance and colleague David Ehrenstein at Physical Review Focus.  (I met David many years ago at a National Association of Science Writers conference… before a talk started, I heard someone ask “Could you explain Dark Matter to me?  I sidled up closer to hear how someone could do that in 1 minute or less.  That someone was David.  Great explainer and writer.)

Physical Review Focus explains the articles in Physical Review for a broad physicists audience.  They’re not easy to write — you have to understand a technical paper in an entirely new field at a deep level, and then write about it in a way that explains the details at a sufficient level to make a physicist happy, but with a broad enough story arc so that a non-specialist can understand it.  It’s  a tough balance.

This latest one was about how things break.  As you can imagine, it’s tough to get a real microscopic snapshot of a crack shooting through a material as it breaks.  But that’s what we need to do in order to get a deep understanding of fracture, so we can understand why materials fail.  Everything cracks (yes, even your jet airplane), but what we want to do is to understand why those cracks grow — that’s what we want to avoid to keep the stuff we build from falling apart.

So, take a look at my full article — Cracking the story of fracture. Any questions?  Let me know.

Image by Christopher Thomas:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glass_fracture.jpg

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