Lesson #3: Composites

Sorting Logs. A Maine Sawmill.Bringing FBRI to the Classroom:  Composites of the Future

This lesson can be incorporated into a physics, physical science or technology curriculum, addressing Standard B in Maine’s Revised Science Learning Results (B  #2 Skills and Traits of Technological Design).  

Improving the performance of materials in an economically feasible manner is of primary importance to all who use those materials.  Traditional Maine wood products that have been improved over the years include dimension lumber, plywood, oriented strand board (commonly referred to as “OSB”) and other building materials.   The hands-on activities in this lesson relate to cutting edge materials research and development taking place at the Advanced Engineering Wood Composites Center (AEWC) at the University of Maine.  AEWC is conducting collaborative research on new hybrid wood “composites”, materials that are engineered to be 6 to 7 times stronger than ordinary pieces of wood.   

Although AEWC does not produce composites commercially, it does make prototype products to attract industrial partners who can help develop the technology. For example, AEWC is working under contract with the Pentagon to develop portable materials including wood-based, blast-resistant structures and rigidified composite arches, which are modular building components that can be carried in backpacks and deployed rapidly within the field to build bridges or protective shelters.  

In a similar vein, the activities in this lesson engage middle level and upper level students in a grade-appropriate challenge to create a prototype of a wood-based material that can withstand certain criteria, with the idea being that the prototype component would eventually become part of a commercial product.  This planning/design process using small-scale models or parts of systems  is one that is actually used by engineers who want to assess the feasibility and the potential risk of design failure before an investment is made in a final product.   

The challenge at the center of this lesson is written in the form of a memo to students as if they were newly-hired engineers, working for a company called “Northeast Forest Tours and Guiding Service”.  They will work on a design team with other “engineers”, focusing on one aspect of an imaginary, long-term project that would ultimately lead to a new product--portable bridge components made of wood.   This project aligns well with recommendations that students should have experience using a technological design process and that they should have an understanding that the choice of materials for a job depends on their properties and on how they interact with other materials.  

Within the challenge, students are directed to present their engineering team’s design process and findings to the company’s “Board of Directors”.  This challenge will seem more real if you are able to recruit an outside audience to serve as that Board on the day of the student presentations.  Parents, administrators, friends or actual scientists and engineers might be approached as potential candidates.  Having an outside audience increases the likelihood that students will perform well on their project and on their presentation.  If adults are not available, perhaps students from an upper grade or another classroom could serve as an audience.

Photo: Sorting Logs. A Maine Sawmill.

Download All Materials for Lesson #3 or the following sections:

LESSON OUTLINE--Directions for Teachers DOC PDF
Student Handout #1--Getting Started DOC PDF
Student Handout #2--Project Scoring Guide DOC PDF
Student Handout #3--Guidelines for Final Report DOC PDF
Student Handout #4--Composites Design Challenge HS DOC PDF
Student Handout #5--Deflection   PDF
Student Handout #6--Compression   PDF
Student Handout #7--Torsion   PDF
Student Handout #8--Technological Design Planning Tool HS DOC PDF
Student Handout #9--Composites Design Challenge Middle DOC PDF
Student Handout #10--Technological Design Planning Tool Middle DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #1--Composites Project Description DOC PDF
Teacher Handout #2--Presentation Rubric-Board of Directors DOC PDF
Teacher Created Supplement   PDF