The problem of catastrophic damage purveys in any material application, and minimizing its occurrence is paramount for general health and safety. Thus, novel damage detection schemes are required that can sense the precursors to damage. Mechanochemistry is the area of research that involves the use of mechanical force to induce a chemical change, with recent study focusing on directing the mechanical force to embedded mechanophore units for a targeted chemical response. Mechanophores are molecular units that provide a measureable signal in response to an applied force, often in the form of a visible color change or fluorescent emission, and their application to thermoset network polymers has been limited. Following preliminary work on polymer blends of cyclobutane-based mechanophores and epoxy, dimeric 9-anthracene carboxylic acid (Di-AC)-based mechanophore particles were synthesized and employed to form stress sensitive particle reinforced epoxy matrix composites.
Under an applied stress, the cyclooctane-rings in the Di-AC particles revert back to their fluorescent anthracene form, which linearly enhances the overall fluorescence of the composite in response to the applied strain. The fluorescent signal further allows for stress sensing in the elastic region of the stress-strain curve, which is considered to be a form of damage precursor detection. This behavior was further analyzed at the molecular scale with corresponding molecular dynamics simulations. Following the successful application of Di-AC to an epoxy matrix, the mechanophore particles were incorporated into a polyurethane matrix to show the universal nature of Di-AC as a stress-sensitive particle filler. Interestingly, in polyurethane Di-AC could successfully detect damage with less applied strain compared to the epoxy system.
While mechanophores of varying chemistries have been covalently incorporated into elastomeric and thermoplastic polymer systems, they have not yet been covalently incorporated a thermoset network polymer. Thus, following the study of mechanophore particles as stress-sensitive fillers, two routes of grafting mechanophore units into an epoxy system to form a self-sensing nanocomposite were explored. These involved the mechanophore precursor and mechanophore, cinnamamide and di-cinnamamide, respectively. With both molecules, the free amine groups can directly bond to epoxy resin to covalently incorporate themselves within the thermoset network to form a self-sensing nanocomposite.