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Breaking things in the name of science

Breaking things in the name of science

A group of Pittsburg State University students spent last Friday afternoon breaking things -- all in the name of science.

A group of Pittsburg State University students spent last Friday afternoon breaking things -- all in the name of science.

The plastics engineering technology students were working on a project, directed by a manufacturer in search of a more durable gas tank for lawn mowers. Assistant Professor Jeanne Norton explained that the students used traditional rotational molding to manufacture a variety of plastic cubes. They then tested the cubes by filling them with water and dropping them on concrete from a height of 20 feet.

“They gave us very strict parameters to follow,” Norton said. “These have all been put together with different parameters so we can see what works and what doesn’t.”

Norton said some of the cubes survived the plunge and some didn’t.

“The students are learning about the engineering challenges that come along with working with industrial partners with targeted goals,” Norton said. “This is also teaches them that research is not necessarily boring.”

The work on this project is one more illustration of how the university’s Polymer Chemistry Initiative brings together resources from across campus. In this case it’s Norton and her students in the College of Technology’s Department of Plastics Engineering and the Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC).

Andy Myers, executive director of the KPRC said the project uses each area’s strengths.

“We’re not talking about new chemicals or new formulations, we’re talking about improving something that already exists,” Myers said. “That’s why it’s a better fit for the group here in the Plastics Engineering Technology Department. We can evaluate the resin materials, the plastics that are used and how to modify those. They have the equipment to repeat the process and to make these cubes.”

Myers said the KPRC has a lot of experience running projects and working with companies, so the KPRC is “housing” project and collaborating and sharing the budget with Plastics Technology.

The potential benefits to this kind of cooperation accrue not only to students and programs, but also to the manufacturer.

“The manufacturer has an existing gas tank and it’s got some problems,” Myers said. “But if we can figure out a way around the problems, it opens up a completely new business for this company.”

Outside of the more significant implications of their testing, however, there was one additional benefit for students.

“It’s also a lot of fun to break things,” Norton said.

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