3D transmission electron microscopy to quantify the morphology of aligned nanofiber nanocomposites

Bharath Natarajan, Noa Lachman, Thomas Lam, Douglas Jacobs, Christian Long, Minhua Zhao, Brian L. Wardle, Renu Sharma, J. Alexander Liddle

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Recent advances in fabricating controlled-morphology, aligned carbon nanotube (A-CNT) assemblies with high (20% and above) volume fraction (Vf) create unique opportunities for markedly improving the performance of the next-generation advanced materials. These performance improvements are due to the scale-dependent and intrinsic properties of the CNTs themselves, and the ability to transfer their anisotropic properties to the polymer nanocomposites (PNC). However, a range of experimentally determined properties of such advanced PNCs are not in agreement with theoretical predictions. This fact strongly suggests that the initial assumptions about the PNC structure may be inaccurate. Here we present new 3-dimensional (3D) measurements of the nanoscale morphology of polymer materials containing high Vf of A-CNTs as revealed using energy-filtered electron tomography. We quantify the evolution of CNT morphology and state of dispersion with increasing Vf in terms of network structure, alignment, bundling and waviness and find that increasing the A-CNT Vf results in a nonlinear increase in bundling and alignment and a decrease in waviness. These new and rich data sets may be used to re-visit prior experimental measurements of these PNC electrical, thermal and mechanical properties, e.g., the large and nonlinear increase in thermal conductivity at high packing is attributable to decreased waviness and increased bundling. The results reported here show that electron tomography is a powerful tool in investigating the 3D morphology of nanocomposites, making it an essential tool for finding pathways to optimize the multifunctional properties of smart, hierarchical composites.

Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes
Event20th International Conference on Composite Materials, ICCM 2015 - Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 19 Jul 201524 Jul 2015


Conference20th International Conference on Composite Materials, ICCM 2015


FundersFunder number
Airbus Group, Boeing
National Institute of Standards and Technology
University of Maryland


    • Carbon Nanotubes
    • Electron Tomography
    • Image Analysis
    • Nanostructure


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