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How a French metallurgist changed all our lives

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Turn the clock back to the first day of September in 1865, when a bouncing baby boy was born to a couple in France. Augustin Georges Albert Charpy, later to become a metallurgist and one of France’s three “founding fathers” in the science of alloys, was, no doubt, no more remarkable than any other baby born at the time. But his life’s work would come to impact on all our lives in ways that you might never imagine.

Charpy was the brains behind – we are sorry to state the obvious – the Charpy impact test. The Charpy impact test is a method that continues to be used today, including here at Victorian Testing and Inspection Services.

Initially employed to measure the brittleness of metals, it can also be used to test the relative toughness of other materials under impact, such as ceramics and polymers. It is considered a quick and economical methodology.

Here’s how it works:

  • The material being tested is held securely at each end
  • A standardized striker is attached to the end of a weighted pendulum
  • The pendulum swings and strikes the material being tested, breaking it
  • The energy absorbed by the material is recorded by measuring the decrease in speed of the pendulum arm as it impacts the metal.

Charpy tests are useful for determining whether a metal is brittle or ductile (pliable). A brittle metal will absorb less energy than a ductile metal. Testing under differing conditions, for example, high or low temperatures, will ascertain whether the materials being tested are suitable for the uses to which they are put.

Essentially it is the method used to ensure the quality and reliability of steel products in industries including construction, defence, energy and machinery and equipment manufacturing.

Which means that Augustin Georges Albert Charpy’s influence was very extensive indeed.

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