Mohs Scale of Hardness, Ceramic vs. Concrete

Last time we watched as the kinetic energy of our falling coffee mug was transformed into the work of creating a crater in a pan of soft kitty litter.   Shock absorbing materials are often placed strategically to cushion valuable objects should they fall, and as an engineer I’ve sometimes had to implement break-its-fall solutions.  Today we’ll place our mug into a less kind scenario, one in which it makes impact with the unforgiving hardness of a concrete floor.   In so doing we’ll compare the mug’s ceramic to the floor’s concrete, and we’ll familiarize ourselves with the Mohs Scale of Hardness.The Mohs Scale of Hardness, Ceramic vs. ConcreteThe Mohs Scale of Hardness, Ceramic vs. Concrete  Material hardness is commonly measured by the Mohs Scale of Hardness, which ranks the relative hardness of a material by observing how resistant it is to scratching by other materials harder than itself.   This standard was developed by German mineralogist Friedrich Moh in 1812, and it rates objects’ hardness on a scale from 1.0, very soft, to 10.0, very hard.   A fingernail, for example, ranks 2.5 on the scale, while a diamond ranks 10.0.Now let’s take a look at the materials in our scenario, a ceramic mug and concrete floor, and see how they compare.   The mug’s ceramic was created by mixing together clay, water, and other materials and then heating them in a kiln, a process known as firing.   This firing causes a chemical reaction that bonds the individual materials tightly together, and when it cools it becomes the product we know as ceramic, a hard, brittle solid which registers at about 7.5 on the Mohs Scale.           The floor the mug falls to is poured-in-place cement, a compound consisting of primarily limestone, clay, pebbles and sand.   When these materials are combined with water a chemical bonding takes place and forms the hard, stone-like matter we know as concrete, which comes in at about 8.0 on the Mohs Scale.           Although the mug’s ceramic is comparably hard to the floor’s concrete, its inherent brittleness, along with certain design features, most notably its handle, causes it to be fragile.   Anyone broken a coffee mug lately?           As for the concrete floor the mug falls onto, it won’t yield to the mug’s freefall kinetic energyand form a crater like the litter did.   So where does the mug’s energy go?           According to the Work-Energy Theorem, most of the mug’s kinetic energy is still converted into work, just as it was when it met up with the litter, but because the concrete floor is harder and thicker than the mug’s thin ceramic, the mug’s kinetic energy at impact falls back on itself rather than transferring externally into the concrete.   The result is a shattered mug and a mess to clean up.

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