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Materials Science and Engineering A298 (2001) 56 – 62

Influence of strain rate on the deformation and fracture response
of a 6061-T6 Al–50 vol.% Al2O3 continuous-reinforced composite
C.M. Cady *, G.T. Gray III
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Mail Stop G755, Los Alamos, NM 87545, USA

Received 30 May 2000; received in revised form 12 July 2000


The compressive mechanical properties of an aluminum – matrix composite unidirectionally reinforced with Al2O3 fibers have
been measured and characterized as a function of loading orientation. The influence of strain rate and fiber orientation on the
deformation and fracture response of a 6061 Al–50 vol.% Al2O3 continuous fiber-reinforced metal – matrix composite (MMC)
aged to a T6 condition is reported. The stress–strain response of this composite was found to vary substantially as a function of
loading orientation; the quasi-static yield changing from nominally 250 MPa transverse to the fibers to 1.7 GPa parallel to the
fibers under ideal conditions. Increasing the strain rate to 2000 s − 1 was observed to only slightly increase the yield strength of
the composite for both orientations. The main failure mechanism has been identified to be kinking, although an upper bound
seems to be attained when the fibers reach their compressive strength. The experimental results are consistent with a plastic
kinking model for strain hardening composites. The failure response of the composite transverse to the fibers, under both uniaxial
stress (quasi-static and dynamic) and uniaxial strain loading, displays a protracted but substantial load drop after yield followed
by continued degradation in load carrying capacity. Lack of ideal parallel fiber construction was found to lead to systematic
buckling failure of the alumina fibers through the sample under uniaxial loading. © 2001 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.

Keywords: Aluminum–matrix composite; Loading orientation

1. Introduction and specific stiffnesses of CF-AMCs are superior to
high-strength steel and other conventional alloys and
Over the last decade, there has been increased indus- their transverse properties are generally as good as or
trial interest in continuous-fiber reinforced composites, better than many common steels.
from both the civilian and defense sectors. Polymer Although the mechanical responses of PMCs and
matrix composites (PMCs) provide excellent mechani- MMCs have been extensively studied for various quasi-
cal properties such as high specific strength and stiff- static loading conditions [3–13], such as tension, shear,
ness, making them attractive for use in recreational and compression, a limited number of high-strain rate,
sports, automotive, aerospace, and naval structural impact, or shock-loading studies have been conducted
components. Metal – matrix composites (MMCs), in on fiber reinforced composites. Some studies have re-
particular continuous-fiber Al – matrix composites (CF- ported dynamic properties for CF-PMCs [14–16] and
AMCs) are also becoming more widely used. Applica- particle reinforced MMCs [14–25]. However, surpris-
tions range from landing gear for aircraft, space shuttle ingly little research has probed the dynamic response of
and satellite components, to armor for military vehicles. CF-AMCs [19,22,26]. It is speculated that inelastic mi-
These composites offer exceptional specific properties crobuckling, fiber crushing and matrix ductility lead to
when compared to monolithic alloys and particulate the failure of CF-AMCs and other CF-composites
MMCs [1,2] (Fig. 1). The longitudinal specific strengths [3,12–16]. It is also widely known that interface
strength between the fiber and the matrix plays an
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-505-6676369; fax: + 1-505-
important role in the mechanical properties of CF-
6678021. AMCs. Tensile properties, in the longitudinal direction,
E-mail address: (C.M. Cady). are dominated by those of the fiber and are enhanced

0921-5093/01/$ - see front matter © 2001 Published by Elsevier Science B.V.
PII: S 0 9 2 1 - 5 0 9 3 ( 0 0 ) 0 1 3 3 9 - 3
C.M. Cady, G.T. Gray III / Materials Science and Engineering A298 (2001) 56–62 57

by weak fiber–matrix interfaces [3,5,6,12,13]. However,
transverse and shear mechanical properties are de-
graded by a weak interface.
In compression, a strong interface and high strength
matrix are desirable for both axial and transverse com-
posite loadings. A strong fiber – matrix interface is desir-
able because failure in compression is initially a
shear-dominated process. A simple approximation of
the strength of an ideal CF-MMC (su) when loaded
parallel to the fibers has been modeled as [1]:

su =fEfo+(1−f )Emo (1)

where f is the fiber volume fraction, Ef is the Young’s
Fig. 2. Optical metallography of 3M 6061Al – 50 vol.% Al2O3 fiber-re-
modulus of a fiber bundle, o is strain at failure, and Em inforced composite.
is the Young’s modulus of the matrix [1]. This rule of
mixtures describes the behavior of a CF-composite elastic and plastic anisotropy, and (3) achieves some of
assuming ideal and unbroken fibers. Since the matrix is its properties due to interfacial effects that influence
relatively low in strength compared to the fibers in most plastic flow and fracture behavior. In this paper the
CF-AMCs, it effectively yields immediately and there- quasi-static and dynamic response of a fiber-reinforced
fore adds very little to the elastic response of the MMC under compressive loading, the failure (fracture)
material. This means the composite behavior in CF- process of the composite, as well as the effect of con-
AMCs can be approximated solely by the properties of straint on the compressive properties will be presented.
the fibers:

su =fEfo (2) 2. Experimental
In engineering materials, a strong matrix is desirable 2.1. Material
to provide initial constraint in the composite and there-
after helps prevent premature fiber buckling. A geomet- A continuous unidirectional fiber pre-form contain-
rical instability of misaligned fibers is thought to be the ing  50 vol.% Nextel™ 610 Al2O3 fibers was pressure
initiation site for failure and the main cause for the infiltrated with a molten 6061 aluminum alloy to pro-
lowered compressive strength of CF-AMCs [12,14,15]. duce a porosity-free aluminum–matrix composite (CF-
Much of the understanding of this compressive failure AMC) [27,28]. The AMC, provided by 3M
mechanism has been obtained from quasi-static experi- Corporation, was solution heat treated for 2 h at 540°C
ments, while few studies have been done on the dy- then water quenched and peak aged at 180°C for 6 h.
namic compressive behavior of this class of composites. The measured ultrasonic wave speeds normal to the
The focus of this study is on an aluminum–alloy fiber direction for this composite are 7.865 mm ms − 1
composite reinforced with Nextel™ 610 alumina fibers. for the longitudinal-wave velocity and 4.406 mm ms − 1
This fiber/metal– matrix composite represents a mate- for the shear-wave velocity with polarization along the
rial which: (1) contains two distinctly different con- fiber direction. Using the method of cells to represent
stituents in terms of structural, physical, and this composite material, Aboudi [29] obtained analyti-
mechanical properties, (2) exhibits strongly directional cal expressions for the elastic constants of uniaxial-fiber
composites; the calculated longitudinal- and shear-wave
speeds obtained using Aboudi’s equations are 7.79 and
4.02 mm ms − 1, respectively. The calculated longitudinal
wave speed is in very good agreement with measure-
ment, but the calculated shear-wave speed is consider-
ably lower. The elastic constants used in these
calculations are 77.37 GPa (0.345) and 252.1 GPa
(0.236) for the bulk moduli (Poisson’s ratio) of alu-
minum and alumina, respectively [26].
The typical fiber distribution in this composite dis-
plays non-uniform areas of clustering and small chan-
nels devoid of fibers, the latter arising from the initial
Fig. 1. CF-AMCs offer a good balance of longitudinal and transverse packing density of the pre-form and accentuated by
specific strength and stiffness [3]. fiber movement during casting (Fig. 2).
58 C.M. Cady, G.T. Gray III / Materials Science and Engineering A298 (2001) 56–62

2.2. Mechanical beha6ior

The uniaxial-stress mechanical response of the AMC
in this study was measured in compression using three
distinct sample geometries. The first is a solid-cylindri-
cal sample 5.0 mm in diameter by 5.0 mm in length.
The second test sample is 12.0 mm long and 6.3 mm in
diameter with a slightly reduced gage section and steel
rings 2.0 mm long press fit around the ends of the
sample to provide additional constraint (Fig. 3) [14,15].
Finite element model calculations were performed to
establish the optimum sample geometry for stress state
equilibrium for the Hopkinson bar samples. This ge-
ometry was calculated to produce a uniaxial, uniform
Fig. 4. Stress – strain response of the CF-AMC tested transverse to the
stress-state in ceramics when tested at high strain rates fiber direction showing one- and two-wave stress curves and strain
[30]. The assumption was made for the CF-AMCs that rate versus strain (all three sample designs).
the reinforcing ceramic fibers would dominate the me-
chanical properties and the behavior would mimic that 1000–8000 s − 1, were performed as a function of strain
of a ceramic in many key aspects. The final geometry rate utilizing a Split-Hopkinson Pressure Bar (SHPB)
resembles a dumb-bell 12.0 mm long by 6.3 mm in [32–34]. An ASTM specification 6061-T6 Al alloy
diameter with a reduced section of 5.5 mm length by rolled plate stock material was also tested to facilitate
4.0 mm diameter in the center and a taper from 6.0 to comparison with the unreinforced matrix Al-alloy.
4.0 mm having a 1.0 mm radius. Steel rings were also
used on these samples to optimize the effect of con- 2.3. Validity of SHPB testing of CF-AMCs
straint (Fig. 3) [14,31]. Geometries 2 and 3 were used to
minimize end effects and promote failure within the Due to the low fracture strains of ceramics and
gage section by suppressing premature axial splitting of CF-AMCs loaded axially, the high-rate constitutive
the specimen. To some extent this was true. However, response of CF-AMCs needs to be carefully probed to
when geometry 2 was tested quasi-statically the failure assure valid uniaxial stress SHPB data [32–34].
in the sample was observed to be initiated by the To verify the high-rate SHPB measurements, differ-
slippage of the constraining rings away from the platen ent stress-wave analyses [32,33] were calculated to de-
interface and ‘brooming’ was initiated. The constrain- termine the specimen stress state from the SHPB bar
ing rings facilitated a significant increase in the load signals as illustrated in Figs. 4–6. In the one-wave
that the fibers supported prior to this slip and subse- analysis, the specimen stress is directly proportional to
quent failure, however the ultimate strength was deter- the bar strain measured in the transmitted bar. The
mined not by the strength of the composite but by the one-wave stress analysis reflects the conditions at the
stress at which the ring slipped. Geometry 3 was found specimen-transmitted bar interface and is often referred
to produce the most accurate and reproducible results. to as the specimen ‘back stress’. This analysis results in
In this case the retaining rings as well as a fraction of
the sample diameter act to constrain the ends of the
sample. The smaller diameter of the gage section also
decreased the load necessary to initiate damage and
failure within the sample. Compression tests at strain
rates of 0.001 and 0.1 s − 1 were conducted using a
screw-driven load frame. Dynamic tests, strain rates of

Fig. 5. Stress – strain response of the CF-AMC tested axial to the fiber
Fig. 3. Specimen geometries: (1) right circular cylinder, (2) geometry direction showing one- and two-wave stress curves and strain rate
after Cosculluela [30], (3) geometry after Tracy [31]. versus strain.
C.M. Cady, G.T. Gray III / Materials Science and Engineering A298 (2001) 56–62 59

2.4. Damage e6olution

At low strain rates, samples using test geometry 1
and 2 were observed to fail by brooming. There was no
consistent failure stress for either geometry although
the constrained sample failed at a substantially higher
stress. Geometry 3 produced statistically similar failure
stresses for the low strain rate tests with the fracture
process being identical to that seen in the high strain
rate tests.
Comparison of the stress–strain behavior of two,
high strain rate, axially loaded samples (geometry 3),
one of which had just initiated a kink band (Fig. 5) and
the second, which had sufficient energy to fracture and
Fig. 6. Stress – strain response of the CF-AMC tested axial to the fiber partially crush the sample (Fig. 6) provides some in-
direction showing one- and two-wave stress curves and strain rate
versus strain for an ‘Overdriven’ sample (geometry 3).
sight into the deformation of these materials. It can be
seen that it is possible to ‘overdrive’ the material and
create a peak stress that cannot ordinarily be achieved.
more accurate and smoother stress – strain curves, espe-
It is clear in both samples that a non-equilibrium stress
cially at low strains near yield. Alternatively, the two-
state was present in both samples, although the sample
wave analysis uses the sum of the synchronized incident
tested with a lower pressure, (Fig. 5), appears to be
and reflected bar waveforms (opposites in sign) to closer to having the requisite characteristics for a valid
calculate the specimen ‘front stress’ which reflects the test (i.e. a constant strain-rate and overlaying one- and
conditions at the incident/reflected bar – specimen inter- two-wave stress/strain behaviors). The composite plots
face. A valid, uniaxial stress SHPB test requires that the in Figs. 5 and 6 demonstrate the crucial importance of
stress state throughout the specimen achieves equi- carefully monitoring and utilizing one- and two-wave
librium during the test and this condition can be stress analysis during SHPB testing of this class of
checked readily by comparing the one-wave and two- material.
wave stress–strain responses. When the stress state is The strain rate versus strain plot was seen to vary for
uniform throughout the specimen, the two-wave stress the axially loaded samples. A drop in strain rate was
oscillates about the one-wave stress. seen to coincide with macroscopic fracture of the speci-
Finally, the achievement of a reasonably constant men. It is possible for the one- and two-wave stress–
strain rate is also deemed crucial for obtaining quanti- strain curves to appear to be in equilibrium (Fig. 6)
tative constitutive data suitable for material modeling while the strain rate versus strain plot identifies a
and as an indicator of deleterious inertial effects or non-constant rate. However, there can be non-uniform
non-uniform deformation behavior such as shear local- plastic flow and the slope (or shape) of the strain-rate
ization or fracture. versus strain plot can change significantly which pro-
Based on the observations of the one-wave, two-wave vides an additional indication of specimen non-uniform
and strain rate analysis during SHPB tests for the deformation or fracture. Therefore, it is also important
current composite, the one- and two-wave data verified to monitor the strain-rate versus strain for all SHPB
that the samples reached an equilibrium stress state tests to validate specimen stress-state equilibrium and
to help define the transition from uniform plastic defor-
when tested transverse to the fibers for all three test
mation to non-homogeneous deformation processes
geometries. Fig. 4 illustrates that the strain-rate/strain
(i.e. such as shear banding) and failure [31].
plot is reasonably constant for strain values from 2 to
Although many of the assumptions required for a
15% for the transversely loaded samples. On the other
valid SHPB test are not achieved for the current CF-
hand, based on the criteria listed above for attainment AMCs when tested axially, some conclusions about the
of a uniaxial stress test, the specimens loaded axial to material behavior can be made with the understanding
the fibers were not found to reach an equilibrium stress that the results are reported for non-equilibrium stress-
state (Figs. 5 and 6). This does not necessarily totally state conditions.
eliminate the utility of the s – o data on the axial-ori-
ented samples, provided that it is well understood that
some or all of the requirements for valid uniaxial stress 3. Results and discussion
SHPB experiments may potentially be compromised.
However, data exhibiting protracted stress-state equi- The stress–strain response of the 3M-fiber composite
librium should be used with caution and so noted. is seen to vary with fiber orientation and strain rate as
60 C.M. Cady, G.T. Gray III / Materials Science and Engineering A298 (2001) 56–62

Fig. 7. Stress – strain response of 6061Al alloy and 6061Al – Al2O3
AMC as a function of sample geometry in the in-plane direction
showing the effect of strain rate and constraint.

seen in Figs. 7 and 8. The tests show that the ‘con-
strained’ composite had a failure strength of  1.75
GPa when loaded axially, which is almost an order of
magnitude above that of monolithic 6061-Al (Fig. 7),
and reflects the high compressive strength of the rein-
forcement. The lack of rate sensitivity at 298 K parallel
to the fibers follows the documented weak rate depen-
dency of alumina [19].
The strain rate dependency of the composite when
loaded orthogonal to the fibers is thought to reflect the
rate and temperature sensitivity of the high-density
dislocation substructure in the Al-matrix formed during
fabrication [17–19]. The current results on the trans-
verse loading support this result; a substantial strain
rate dependency is observed. On the contrary, the fully
annealed and aged 6061-T6 aluminum alloy does not
show a significant increase in its yield strength with
strain rate (Fig. 8). The constrained composite yield
strength transverse to the fibers is approx. eight times
less than that exhibited longitudinal to the fibers quasi-

Fig. 9. Micrographs showing fiber microbuckling and ‘brooming’ of
an unconstrained sample (a), and microbuckling and crushing of a
constrained sample (b, c) in the 6061/Al2O3 composite.

statically at 298 K. This finding is consistent with the
high strength of the alumina fibers carrying the bulk of
the load when loading is parallel to the fibers.
The failure mechanism in the axial, unconstrained
samples at low strain rates was found to be initiated by
microbuckling followed by ‘brooming’ of the fibers at
the interface of the test platen and the sample (Fig. 9a).
Failure at high loading rates was seen to be the same as
that seen in the quasi-static tests. The yield or fracture
in the highly constrained sample (geometry 3) is seen to
Fig. 8. Stress – strain response of 6061Al alloy and 6061Al – Al2O3
AMC as a function of sample geometry in the through-thickness plate be linked to microbuckling or ‘kinking’ of the fibers
direction showing the effect of strain rate and constraint. (Fig. 9b). Microbuckling and brooming was found to
C.M. Cady, G.T. Gray III / Materials Science and Engineering A298 (2001) 56–62 61

occur in samples with geometries 1 and 2 but always at 3.1. Predicting composite strength
a lower stress level and at the sample/platen interface.
Tests conducted on the highly constrained samples On the assumption that the failure mode is fiber
indicate that microbuckling followed by crushing with a microbuckling parallel to the loading axis, then the
very dramatic load drop at fracture occurred for all compressive strength has been shown to be essentially
strain rates near the statistical load limit of the fibers. A governed by the composite shear stress–strain response.
continuation of the damage process for the highly For composites following the Ramberg-Osgood shear
constrained samples following the initial kink band stress–strain response, the compressive strength is pre-

shows that a second kink band forms (Fig. 9c). Further dicted by [35]
1 n−1
loading causes brooming at the interface of the two 3 n F/gy n −1

kink bands in a similar fashion to that observed for sc = G 1+ n (3)
7 n− 1
unconstrained samples at the sample/platen interface.
The interface of the two kink bands was observed to where G is the shear modulus of the composite, n is the
always occur near the transition from the uniform hardening exponent, gy is the composite yield strain in
section of the sample gage section to the gradually the longitudinal shear and F is the average fiber misori-
increasing section where there is a stress concentrator. entation. Values reported by Deve [3] are 51 GPa for G,
The samples with less constraint failed at lower stress n= 8 and gy = 0.0035. The misorientation was reported
levels but exhibited higher toughness as damage accu- to vary from 0 to 10° [3] but we will assume that the
mulated. The stress – strain results show that geometries average misorientation is about 3° (or 0.0523 rad), a
1 and 2 only displayed  70% of the fracture strength typical misorientation as reported by Lankford [15].
of the highly constrained geometry. This, perhaps, is an Using these values, the predicted failure strength is
indication that: (1) premature fiber failure is occurring calculated to be 3.4 GPa. However, if the fiber misori-
at the platen/sample interface due to friction, or (2) entation was slightly more than 1° larger, the failure
fiber–matrix delamination is suppressed when con- strength would be 2.5 GPa. Even though the actual
value for the failure stress (1.75 GPa) is lower than
straint is present. No definitive strain rate dependency
predicted, it is clear that this CF-AMC can sustain
for either the unconstrained or constrained samples
most of the predicted load owing to the high shear
based upon the current results was seen, since the
modulus of the composite. Other contributing factors
failure stresses and strains are nearly identical for simi-
to a lower strength may be the non-uniform fiber
lar test geometries.
distribution and random packing density. The packing
Transverse strength, which is a matrix dominated
density and fiber distribution are seen in Fig. 2 to be
property and influenced by the matrix yield strength
variable through the sample cross section. Although
and fiber volume fraction, displayed an increase of
there is relatively good agreement of this model with
50%, when the strain rate is increased from 0.001 to
the test results, it should be noted that the model tends
3000 s − 1. The alumina fibers appear to weaken the
to over-predict the strength and is highly dependent on
composite in the transverse direction. The failure mech- the hardening coefficient and misorientation angle. This
anism in this orientation was fiber bending, fiber crack- model assumes that the fibers are much stiffer that the
ing, and was shear dominated for all three sample matrix, which is generally true for F/gy greater than 10.
configurations (Fig. 10) with shear occurring along the If F/gy is approximately 5 the kinking model over-pre-
fiber length, causing little fiber fracture. dicts the strength. This over-prediction of the strength
could be related to a transition in the failure mecha-
nism from fiber kinking to crushing at the point when
the fibers reach their compressive strength. The strength
of a composite that fails by fiber crushing is predicted
by a simple rule of mixtures formula (Eq. (1)).

4. Conclusions

Based upon a study of the dynamic deformation and
fracture of a 6061Al–50 vol.% Al2O3 fiber composite,
the following conclusions can be drawn. (1) The stress–
strain response was found to vary substantially as a
function of loading orientation relative to the fiber
Fig. 10. Micrograph showing shear failure in CF-AMCs for trans- reinforcement. (2) The failure response of the composite
verse compressive loading. transverse to the fibers, under both uniaxial stress and
62 C.M. Cady, G.T. Gray III / Materials Science and Engineering A298 (2001) 56–62

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