Nanoscale Material Characterization of the Mechanical Capabilities of Polymer Matrix Composites under Hygrothermal Conditions
This experiment analyzed the degradation mechanisms in polymer matrix composite (PMC) samples after more than 50 years of simulated exposure to hygrothermal conditioning. This strong, form-adaptive, lightweight material is suitable for use on critical structures including nuclear powerplants and spacecrafts as primary reinforcers to improve fracture toughness. Current literature regarding PMC material has a poor understanding of its delamination trends and varying interphase properties that determine its overall reliability under extreme weather conditions. This paper will evaluate the long-term impact from exposure to heat and humidity regarding the material’s stiffness and degradation to confirm PMC’s reliability for use in structures that undergo these conditions. To study this phenomenon, aged and unaged PMC samples were analyzed on the nanoscale using PeakForce Quantitative Nanomechanical mode (PF-QNM) of Atomic Force Microscopy with an indentation tip no greater than 10nm in radius. This paper compares this testing method to the results from recent research on other microscopy modes to discuss the validity of the PF-QNM model as it is used for this analysis. The data obtained allowed for analysis of crack propagation and quantification of strength in interphase between the composite’s constituents. This research verifies the testing method for which a comprehensive understanding of the environmental influences on PMC mechanical properties could be achieved.