Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Stress, Strain and Plasticity
Originator Brian Whalley
Department School of Geosciences, The Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast, BT7 1NN
Tel. +44 (0)1232 335146
Fax +44 (0)1232 321280


Within a module Introduction to Geomorphology students, in groups of three, are set a series of open-ended tasks. The materials are provided to give experiential learning in some physical principles which are directly related to geomorphic processes. Lectures take place alongside, and there is fieldwork earlier in the course. In the first experiment students are provided with 'slopes' which can be set at different angles and provided with different roughnesses (gravel, sandpaper). They are also provided with cuboids of various rock types, differing in mass and shape. Students have to structure their own exploration and experiments in which they investigate the various circumstances when sliding (or toppling) occurs.

In the second experiment the groups are provided with pieces of wooden dowelling, 30 cm long. Some are round and some are square in cross section. A dowel is clamped at one end and weights are suspended at the other, whilst deformation is recorded and the mass at point of failure is noted. Cross section shape is less important than area (deliberately misleading!). The third experiment involves a cuboid of plasticene. Weights are placed on top and deformation measured. The plasticene is also warmed, and the experiment repeated.


Learning objectives:

When students have completed this practical they will be able to:
  1. think through a simple practical problem
  2. relate theory to practical experience
  3. provide 'tests' of theory

Techniques included:

Management of laboratory access:

Students can book into the laboratories for as long as they need. In practice they use one of three timetabled 2 hour practicals and about 1 hour more of their own time for writing up. All the experiments are carried out in the absence of teaching staff, deliberately. Support staff are around.


Written up individually as a scientific report. This comprises one third of the coursework on this module. Coursework is 40% of the total assessment.


Experimental design
Problem solving

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Practicals and Laboratory Work in Geography"

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Page created 28 November 1998
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