A method for detecting fatigue cracks has been explored at NASA Langley Research Center. Microscopic NiTi shape memory alloy (sensory) particles were embedded in a 7050 aluminum alloy matrix to detect the presence of fatigue cracks. Cracks exhibit an elevated stress field near their tip inducing a martensitic phase transformation in nearby sensory particles. Detectable levels of acoustic energy are emitted upon particle phase transformation such that the existence and location of fatigue cracks can be detected. To test this concept, a fatigue crack was grown in a mode-I single-edge notch fatigue crack growth specimen containing sensory particles. As the crack approached the sensory particles, measurements of particle strain, matrix-particle debonding, and phase transformation behavior of the sensory particles were performed. Full-field deformation measurements were performed using a novel multi-scale optical 3D digital image correlation (DIC) system. This information will be used in a finite element-based study to determine optimal sensory material behavior and density.

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