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‘Breakinator’ gives peek into materials science

PULLMAN — Some kids play nicely with toys. And, some kids love to smash, hit, throw and destroy them. It’s for the second group, and in the name of good science, that a group of Washington State University students built the “Breakinator.’’

The machine, which uses a winch and spring system to loudly smash things into tiny bits, will be part of a new display on materials science and engineering at the Palouse Discovery Science Center, 2371 N.E. Hopkins Court, in Pullman. Children will be able to bring their own toys from home to destroy. The Breakinator will be on display at the Palouse Family Science Fair on Saturday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

WSU’s student chapter of Material Advantage last year received an $800 grant from ASM International, one of the professional materials societies, to construct an interactive display about materials for the science center. The materials society’s grant program allows student chapters to submit a proposal for educational outreach activities for funding consideration. With the goal of creating better awareness about the field of materials science, the WSU students proposed building a permanent display about materials science in the science center, particularly aimed at youth through 12th grade. The group was one of only five student chapters in the country to receive the grant award in 2004.

Although the Breakinator will make a lot of noise and promises to impress, the machine also will help children better understand why and how materials break. The kids will be able to view the microscopic differences between ductile and brittle fractures and learn how different materials react to force. The exhibit will also include a poster and display of fractured materials, so that students can examine how different materials—such as steel, ceramics or composites—behave under stress. The Breakinator inventors hope to get young people excited about the science of materials.

 “The awareness of materials science engineering as a career escapes most people, meaning we are constantly explaining ourselves to the world with examples such as plastic decking and silicon chips in computers,’’ said Wayne Burnett, president of WSU’s chapter of Material Advantage. “In eastern Washington, many students interested in engineering are not exposed to materials science engineering at their high schools, resulting in the loss of hundreds or thousands of potential future pioneers.’’

The WSU student chapter of Material Advantage, which includes about 25 students, has received many of the society’s national awards in recent years, winning major chapter awards five of the past seven years. Officers during 2004-2005 were Wayne Burnett, president; Ryan Eames, vice president; Elly Senn, secretary; Jonathan Winterstein, treasurer; and Jerrod Miller, WSU College Representative.

For more information on the Palouse Discovery Science Center, visit its Web site at

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