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In Situ Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope Observations of Colloidal Failure Mechanisms Using the Brazilian Disk Test



This paper presents data produced using a novel test fixture to study the crack initiation and fracture mechanisms in brittle colloidal systems, in situ in an Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM), based on the Brazilian disk test. The test is based on diametral compression loading of a disk of material, which causes a tensile stress in the centre of the disk perpendicular to the loading direction. Key advantages over commercial tensile tests are simplicity of specimen preparation, especially important for fragile and brittle materials, which because of their nature in many cases cannot be microscopically characterised after testing. The test was successful in creating the desired perpendicular tensile stresses and yielded diametral cracks across the latex specimens. It was found that when end crushing was minimal, multiple cracks initiated at several points on the disk and a number of factors appeared to influence the propagation of cracks through the latex, these include: particle packing arrangements, surface defects, and the presence of other cracks. Following the onset of fracture, it was observed that the cracks connected to form a single failure route, here described as the path of least resistance. This, in essence, resulted in the crack taking a route around stronger, more ordered regions of the latex (be they “crystals” or surface defects). The experimental results presented and discussed here represent the first attempt to utilise this loading arrangement in the study of crack propagation in colloidal systems.