Predicting Material Fatigue: Polymer Composites: Luminescent Zinc Oxide Tetrapod Filler Makes Inner Damage Visible

December 03 2012

A German research team has developed a new concept to design self-reporting composite materials. The concept utilizes zinc oxide tetrapod crystals as a filler material for composites which at the same time reveals material failure by a visual signal under UV light. The new concept may solve many engineering problems as numerous fields from vehicle construction to medical engineering are actively seeking new composite materials for high-strain applications. The scientists of Kiel University, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and Technical University Munich (TUM) have published their results in the journal Advanced Materials. "The luminescent features of zinc oxide tetrapod crystals are well established. According to our work hypothesis, these characteristics showed pronounced variations under a mechanical load, and we realized that it could help to detect internal damages of composite materials," says Dr. Yogendra Mishra of Kiel University's Technical Faculty. In one experiment, the scientists added zinc oxide tetrapod shaped crystals to a silicone (polydimethylsiloxane) polymer and tested its general properties. They found that the resulting composite material is on the one hand stronger than silicon and on the other hand emits light in different colors when exposed to UV light. When the material is subjected to mechanical stress and ultraviolet light, the intensities of the emitted lights and thus the color changes. "The micro-nano sized crystals give a visual warning when the composite material is about to fail under stress," explains PhD student Xin Jin. The alteration of the luminescent characteristics of defined semiconductor microstructures under load -- as we could show for zinc oxide tetrapods -- might be also interesting for many other phosphor material systems. We expect further developments in this emerging field on 'self-reporting materials'," explains Professor Cordt Zollfranck of TUM. Composite polymer materials are used in diverse fields from dental implants to spacecraft’s. They are made from two or more constituent materials with different properties such as silicone and zinc oxide crystals which together render better properties. On demands, they can be designed to be light-weight, mechanically robust and still inexpensive. Professor Rainer Adelung, leader of the study, says: "Zinc oxide crystals seem to be an excellent component to design numerous specific composite materials -- also for constructions in which instability can cause fatal accidents.

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