New high-performance fiber promises better bulletproof vests, airplanes

December 4th, 2010 - 3:17 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 4 (ANI): Northwestern University researchers have created a new kind of fibre that could be tougher than Kevlar.

Working in a multidisciplinary team, the group has created a high performance fibre from carbon nanotubes and a polymer that is remarkably tough, strong, and resistant to failure.

Using state-of-the-art in-situ electron microscopy testing methods, the group was able to test and examine the fibers at many different scales - from the nano scale up to the macro scale - which helped them understand just exactly how tiny interactions affect the material’s performance.

“We want to create new-generation fibers that exhibit both superior strength and toughness. A big issue in engineering fibers is that they are either strong or ductile - we want a fiber that is both. The fibers we fabricated show very high ductility and a very high toughness. They can absorb and dissipate large amounts of energy before failure. We also observed that the strength of the material stays very, very high, which has not been shown before. These fibers can be used for a wide variety of defense and aerospace applications,” said Horacio Espinosa.

To create the new fibre, researchers began with carbon nanotubes -cylindrical-shaped carbon molecules, which individually have one of the highest strengths of any material in nature. When you bundle nanotubes together, however, they lose their strength - the tubes start to laterally slip between each other.

The team added a polymer to the nanotubes to bind them together, and then spun the resulting material into yarns. Then they tested the strength and failure rates of the material using in-situ SEM testing, which uses a powerful microscope to observe the deformation of materials under a scanning electron beam.

This technology has allows researchers to have extremely high-resolution images of materials as they deform and fail and allows researchers to study materials on several different scales.

The result is a material that is tougher than Kevlar - meaning it has a higher ability to absorb energy without breaking.

But Kevlar is still stronger - meaning it has a higher resistance to failure.

Their results were published in the journal ACS Nano. (ANI)

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