You cannot win a NASCAR race without understanding science. Materials play important roles in improving performance, as well as ensuring safety. On the performance side, NASCAR limits the materials race car scientists and engineers can use to limit ownership costs. 'Exotic metals' are not allowed, so controlling microstructure and nanostructure are important tools. Compacted Graphitic Iron, a cast iron in which magnesium additions produce interlocking microscale graphite reinforcements, makes engine blocks stronger and lighter. NASCAR's new car design employs a composite called Tegris that has 70 percent of the strength of carbon fiber composites at about 10 percent of the cost.
The most important role of materials in racing is safety. Drivers wear firesuits made of polymers that carbonize (providing thermal protection) and expand (reducing oxygen access) when heated. Catalytic materials originally developed for space-based CO2 lasers filter air for drivers during races. Although materials help cars go fast, they also help cars slow down safely—important because the kinetic energy of a race car going 180 mph is nine times greater than that of a passenger car going 60 mph. Energy-absorbing foams in the cars and on the tracks control energy dissipation during accidents.
To say that most NASCAR fans (and there are estimated to be 75 million of them) are passionate about their sport is an understatement. NASCAR fans understand that science and engineering are integral to keeping their drivers safe and helping their teams win. Their passion for racing gives us a great opportunity to share our passion for science with them.
This event is open to the public and free to attend, but feel free to RSVP on Facebook.
Diandra Leslie-Pelecky Hilborn earned undergraduate degrees in physics and philosophy from the University of North Texas and a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics from Michigan State University. She spent the majority of her twenty-year academic career as a nanomaterials research and educator at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Her research in magnetic nanomaterials was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. She developed fundamental understanding of magnetic materials as well as applications of nanomaterials to medical diagnosis and treatment processes such as magnetic resonance imaging and chemotherapy.
Leslie-Pelecky is nationally recognized for her work in science education and outreach at all levels, with projects primarily funded by the National Science Foundation. She is a popular speaker with technical and non-technical audiences, including addresses for the public sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, colleges and universities, science museums, and the American Physical Society. Her book, The Physics of NASCAR, was excerpted by TIME magazine and has been featured in publications from the Materials Research Bulletin to Sporting News. Her blog, Building Speed, focuses on the science of motorsports and is avidly read by NASCAR fans and insiders.