Huichen Chi

Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)




Dr. John R. Dennison


The mechanical and mesoscopic structural properties of rigid cellular foam made of polystyrene have been investigated. Basic properties (e.g., density, total and available porosity, permeability, surface area, isotropicity, and cell size and cell wall thickness distributions) were measured. In most cases, alternative methods were used to determine which methods were most appropriate for the type of samples we studied. Standard compression and deflection mechanical tests were performed. The stress-strain curves and related mechanical properties were found to agree with standard cellular structural models of open-cell foams.

We investigated the effects of small (~<5 atm) hydrostatic stress applied to foam samples for long periods of time (~one day). We observed large changes (up to a factor of three) in the stress-strain diagrams, Young's modulus, elastic collapse stress, ultimate strength, resilience, Poisson's ratio, permeability, penetration depth, and available porosity. Effects were most pronounced above 2 atm applied pressure differential, but were observed even for 1 atm loads. Short-term exposure to loads up to ten times as large did not cause comparable changes. These changes were interpreted as resulting from observed changes in the mesoscopic structure occurring near the surface using standard cellular structural models.

This work was originally motivated by applications of foam as an inflating agent and structural component of fiber-epoxy composite tubular struts to be used in innovative space structures. The key recommendations of this study, regarding such applications, are to closely monitor the effects on the mechanical properties of polystyrene foam of: (1) cell structure and density inhomogeneities, and (2) pressure differentials which may be encountered during deployment and curing.

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