Purdue University Graduate School
Zimmermann_Dissertation_Submitted_April19.pdf (25.96 MB)


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posted on 2023-04-19, 19:22 authored by Natalie ZimmermannNatalie Zimmermann

Composite materials used in the aviation industry are known to be more complex than their metallic predecessors. This impacts not only the design and manufacturing of composite structures, but also the failure studies when these structures fail and break (as may be the case in an aircraft accident). Additionally, when under combustion, composite materials introduce potential health hazards. At elevated temperatures, the fibers can be released, presenting an inhalation hazard. Similarly, the matrix decomposition results in a series of potentially toxic byproducts. When encountering composite fires at aircraft accident sites, a series of protocols have been delineated by the corresponding agencies. These include wearing personal protective equipment as well as the application of so-called fixant solutions over the burning composites, with the latter being the focus of this study. The purpose of the fixant solutions is to provide a film of protection that – in essence – holds down small fibers and prevents them from becoming airborne. While the use of fixant solutions is necessary to protect the health of individuals in the vicinity of burnt composites, the potential detrimental impact the application thereof has on fractographic evidence should also be considered. Experts in the field have voiced concerns regarding the use of fixants, outlining that these chemicals may wash evidence away, cover up evidence, or interfere with imaging methods needed during the failure analysis. The purpose of the conducted research, thus, was to compare the relative impact of four commonly used fixant solutions – namely water, wetted water, polyacrylic acid (PAA), as well as a mixture of water and floor wax – on fractographic features of failed carbon fiber/epoxy composite specimens. Specifically, fractographic evidence of two forms of damage – impact and tension – were evaluated. With this goal, the methodology included steps to manufacture the specimens of interest, introduce the two forms of damage, burn the specimens, apply fixants, and perform the microscopic analysis via a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The fractographic evidence prior and after the application of fixant was evaluated qualitatively and quantitatively. The results showed that the evaluated fixants did influence the fracture surfaces imaged, and in certain cased obscured evidence of interest. Additionally, differences between the fixants were ascertained for both forms of damage evaluated. The water treatment was found to perform the best, minimizing the disruption of evidence. Nonetheless, while the study did answer the research questions and the different treatments were compared, additional areas of research and factors that should be considered were identified. 


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Aviation and Transportation Technology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Peng Hao Wang

Additional Committee Member 2

Ronald Sterkenburg

Additional Committee Member 3

Julius Keller

Additional Committee Member 4

Flavio Antonio Coimbra Mendonca