This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


Meet the engineers who talk to aeroplanes

Fancy a chat with this Boeing 787 Dreamliner? (Courtesy: Boeing)

Fancy a chat with this Boeing 787 Dreamliner? (Courtesy: Boeing)

By Ian Randall

For most people, it’s considered rather eccentric to talk to inanimate objects – and if the objects seem to be talking back, then it’s probably time to seek medical advice! Not, however, for Alex Ng and his colleagues at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who are working on a way to “chat” to buildings, bridges, aeroplanes and other structures, so they can report back on their structural health.

Ng’s team is particularly interested in things made from fibre-composite laminates. These laminates comprise individual layers of high-strength fibre in a ceramic, metallic or polymer matrix and are becoming increasingly popular as building materials. Their internal structure provides strength and stiffness, while also being lighter than alternative materials. They can be used for such wide-ranging purposes as building construction, aerospace design and even sports goods. For example, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner aircraft is made of 80% composite materials by volume.

However, it can be very difficult to measure the structural integrity of components made from laminates. This is because it is often impossible to assess the internal layers of a structure for damage without doing destructive testing.

To overcome this problem, Ng and his team of engineers are developing a system of electrical transducers that can probe the integrity of such structures using sound waves. Sound travels through the laminate materials like ripples on the surface of a pond. Data are gathered on the waves that are reflected back to the source, and this information is analysed to reveal the presence of damage or defects throughout the structure.

Ng’s transducers could either be integrated into the composite materials during construction, or connected to their surface afterwards. This would offer the possibility of round-the-clock, automatic monitoring of the structure at minimal expense.

While the project is only in its early stages, the team has already succeeded at creating a system in their laboratory that emits and receives sound waves within the target structures. “Right now, we can only detect where the damage is,” Ng says, explaining that eventually the team expects to be able to detect the exact size and shape of any defects. “It will allow us to talk to the structure… just like someone going to the doctor for a health check.”

The same method should also be applicable to other structural materials, such as steel – which can also be difficult to assess without destructive testing.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile


  1. M. Asghar

    I am affraid that the search for the structural defects in differnt types of bodies via the detection of the reflected of the different type of ultra-sounds produced by appropriate transducers, is a routine process.

  2. eyesoars

    Preventive maintenance (e.g., annual inspections) done by percussing surfaces with a quarter or other small, hard object is also routine practice for gliders, sailboats, and other objects manufactured from fibreglass, carbon fibre, and other composite materials. The technique is good for discovering delaminations, weak spots, and other surface and internal defects.

  3. Really interesting article on a possible new technique and you’ve covered it well in the article. It’ll be interesting to see it’s progress.


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text