Posted March 24, 2003 Atlanta
Light, conductive and nearly as strong as steel, carbon nanotubes are being combined with lightweight polymers to produce composite materials with properties attractive for use on future space vehicles. But choosing the right polymer for optimal mechanical performance at the nanometer scale requires a lengthy trial-and-error process.
By adapting tiny cantilever and position measurement systems used in atomic force microscopy (AFM), researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are helping their NASA colleagues shorten that process. Using chemical force microscopy, they are producing detailed information about adhesion between single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) and molecules of candidate polymers with different functional groups.
"Our hypothesis is that the stronger the adhesive interaction between molecules and nanotubes, the more likely it is that the polymer will fully wet the nanotubes, break up aggregations of nanotubes and form a mechanically-sound composite," said Larry Bottomley, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "The intent is to come up with two or three chemical groups that will give us the strongest interaction, and then incorporate these onto polymers for further studies.
Details of the research were presented March 23 at the 225th American Chemical Society National Meeting in New Orleans, LA. The Advanced Materials and Processing Branch of NASA's Langley Research Center has supported the work under grant NGT-1-02002.