By stacking layers of ceramic cloth with interlocking nanotubes in between, a team of researchers has created new composites with significantly improved properties compared to traditional materials. The "nanotube sandwiches," which are described in the May 7 online edition of the journal Nature Materials, could find use in a wide array of structural applications.
"Nanotubes are a very versatile material with absolutely fascinating physical properties, all the way from ballistic conduction to really interesting mechanical behavior," says Pulickel Ajayan, the Henry Burlage Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Rensselaer and a lead author of the paper, along with colleagues at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Some fundamental issues, however, have kept researchers from realizing the full potential of nanotubes, particularly when combining them with other materials to make composites. The interface between the materials is not as strong as one might expect, Ajayan notes, because it is difficult to disperse nanotubes and to align them in an orderly way.
Ajayan and his colleagues have pioneered a process to help overcome these difficulties, and they are putting it to use in a wide variety of applications. For the current project, the researchers are applying the process to a new area: reinforced composite fabrics made from woven ceramic fibers. These materials have been used for decades in structural applications, but they tend to perform poorly in terms of "through-thickness," or the ability of a material to respond to forces applied perpendicular to the fabric-stacking direction, according to Ajayan.
Tiffany Lohwater | EurekAlert!
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