Mechanical properties of carbon nanotubes and nanofibers
Abstract: Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have extraordinary electrical and mechanical properties, and many potential applications have been proposed, ranging from nanoscale devices to reinforcement of macroscopic structures. However, due to their small sizes, characterization of their mechanical properties and deformation behaviours are major challenges. Theoretical modelling of deformation behaviours has shown that multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) can develop ripples in the walls on the contracted side when bent above a critical curvature. The rippling is reversible and accompanied by a reduction in the bending stiffness of the tubes. This behaviour will have implications for future nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS). Although rippling has been thoroughly modelled there has been a lack of experimental data thus far. In this study, force measurements have been performed on individual MWCNTs and vertically aligned carbon nanofibers (VACNFs). This was accomplished by using a custom-made atomic force microscope (AFM) inside a scanning electron microscope (SEM). The measurements were done by bending free-standing MWCNTs/VACNFs with the AFM sensor in a cantilever-to-cantilever fashion, providing force-displacement curves. From such curves and the MWCNT/VACNF dimensions, measured from SEM-images, the critical strain for the very onset of rippling and the Young’s modulus, E, could be obtained. To enable accurate estimations of the nanotube diameter, we have developed a model of the SEM-image formation, such that intrinsic diameters can be retrieved. We have found an increase in the critical strain for smaller diameter tubes, a behaviour that compares well with previous theoretical modelling. VACNFs behaved very differently, as they did not display any rippling and had low bending stiffnesses due to inter-wall shear. We believe that our findings will have implications for the design of future NEMS devices that employ MWCNTs and VACNFs.
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