Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Materials Science and Engineering


Materials Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Nicola Bowler


Two main issues for the wide application of polymer-matrix nanocomposites need to be addressed: cost-effective processing of high-performance nanomaterials, and fundamental understanding of the nanofiller-polymer interaction related to property changes of nanocomposites.

To fabricate inexpensive and robust carbon nanofibers (CNFs) by the electrospinning technique, an organosolv lignin for replacing polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor was investigated in this work. Modification of lignin to its butyl ester alters the electrospinnability and the thermal mobility of the lignin/PAN blend precursor fibers, which further affect the thermostabilization and carbonization processes of CNFs. The micromorphology, carbon structure, and mechanical properties of resultant CNFs were evaluated in detail. Lignin butyration reveals a new approach to controlling inter-fiber bonding of CNFs which efficiently increases the tensile strength and modulus of nonwoven mats.

A commercial vapor-grown CNF reinforcing of room-temperature-vulcanized (RTV) polysiloxane foam has potential impact on the residual tin catalyst in composites and consequently the aging and the long-term performance of the materials. Elemental spectra and mapping were employed to analyze the distribution and the composition of tin catalyst residues in the CNF/polysiloxane composites. Thermal analysis revealed a significant increase of thermal stability for CNF-filled composites. Further, the glass transition properties of polysiloxane are not evidently influenced by the physical interaction between CNF filler and polysiloxane matrix.

Nanocomposites consisting of anthracene, a model polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) compound, and a thermosetting epoxy was matrix was studied to interpret the reinforcing effect on the glass transition temperature (Tg) by different routes: physical dispersion and/or covalent modification. The molecular dynamics of the relaxation processes were analyzed by broadband dielectric spectroscopy (BDS). By parametric fitting using the Havriliak-Negami (HN) function, the Arrhenius diagram was obtained to evaluate the temperature dependence of the relaxation processes at different length scales for the nanocomposites. The segmental α relaxation was strongly affected by the reinforcing approaches and the correlation of Tg-scaled fragility to molecular structures provides the explanation for the mechanisms of the nanofiller-polymer interaction.

In addition, the accelerated chemical aging of nylon 6 polymer, a common material for wire insulations, was monitored by a nondestructive dielectric/capacitive method. The correlation between dielectric properties and electrical breakdown strength was found dependent on the polarity of the aircraft fluids to which nylon 6 was exposed. It was concluded that permittivity/capacitance measurement offers a feasible nondestructive method for diagnosing the breakdown strength of chemically immersed nylon 6.

Copyright Owner

Rui Ding



File Format


File Size

182 pages