Two examples of how nanotube-filled polymers (thin rod in left photo; small disk in right photo) avoid swelling seen in traditional polymers.
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have discovered that the addition of carbon nanotubes to a common commercial polymer, polypropylene, leads to dramatic changes in how the molten polymer flows. This process eliminates a widespread manufacturing headache known as "die-swell" in which polymers swell in undesirable directions when passing through the exit port of an extruder (a machine for producing more or less continuous lengths of plastic sections).
Researchers have been adding small amounts of nanotubes--tiny tubes of carbon about 1,000 times thinner than a human hair--to polypropylene in hopes of dramatically enhancing the material’s strength and other properties. Once realized, this enhanced polymer could be processed at high speed through extruders for use in manufacturing.
NIST materials scientists were concerned that because nanotubes make the polypropylene rubbery, the material would be difficult to process or its enhanced properties would be lost. To their surprise, the opposite proved true. When sheared (forced) between two plates, the polymer normally separates the plates. However, when nanotubes are added, the plates are pulled together.
Scott Nance | EurekAlert!
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