Experimental mechanics is rather vague, or all embracing term, given to the area of engineering in which I have specialised for the last 25 years. ‘Mechanics’ is study of the behaviour of a body when it experiences forces or displacements. The ‘body’ could be anything from the human body, a planet, an aeroplane or a part of an engine. ‘Experimental mechanics’ is about measuring the behaviour of the body under the action of loads, i.e. forces or displacements, so that we can develop a better understanding of the performance of the ‘body’ and predict its future behaviour. The behaviour we measure is usually some type of deformation, for instance if you have the misfortune to reverse (displace) your car (the body) into an embarkment retaining wall while parking then the car will be bent (deformed). We might do something similar in a laboratory and then predict the performance of your car in a crash.
The challenge is to measure deformation over the complete surface of a ‘body’ in real-time for events that might be happening quite fast, as in the example above, and in extreme conditions. ‘Extreme conditions’ is short-hand for a collection of difficult situations including very high temperatures found in an engine; hazardous environments created by chemical or nuclear activity; as well as very large structures, such as the wings of passenger aircraft, and very small things, such as human cells. My specialist area is using light-based techniques to make such measurements. I am also interested in how to use the measurements to provide credibility for models that predict the behaviour of the ‘body’.
If you would like to find out more, or if you found your way here expecting to find out about experimental mechanics in more detail then, you could try the website of my research group: experimentalstress.com. If you are really keen, then I am helping to organise a workshop on ‘Strain Measurement in Extreme Environments’ in Glasgow at the end of August 2012, see http://mpsva2012.iopconfs.org/107471.