A robust nanoscale experimental quantification of fracture energy in a bilayer material system

D Lau and K Broderick and MJ Buehler and O Buyukozturk, PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 111, 11990-11995 (2014).

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1402893111

Accurate measurement of interfacial properties is critical any time two materials are bonded-in composites, tooth crowns, or when biomaterials are attached to the human body. Yet, in spite of this importance, reliable methods to measure interfacial properties between dissimilar materials remain elusive. Here we present an experimental approach to quantify the interfacial fracture energy Gamma(i) that also provides unique mechanistic insight into the interfacial debonding mechanism at the nanoscale. This approach involves deposition of an additional chromium layer (superlayer) onto a bonded system, where interface debonding is initiated by the residual tensile stress in the superlayer, and where the interface can be separated in a controlled manner and captured in situ. Contrary to earlier methods, our approach allows the entire bonded system to remain in an elastic range during the debonding process, such that Gamma(i) can be measured accurately. We validate the method by showing that moisture has a degrading effect on the bonding between epoxy and silica, a technologically important interface. Combining in situ through scanning electron microscope images with molecular simulation, we find that the interfacial debonding mechanism is hierarchical in nature, which is initiated by the detachment of polymer chains, and that the three-dimensional covalent network of the epoxy-based polymer may directly influence water accumulation, leading to the reduction of Gamma(i) under presence of moisture. The results may enable us to design more durable concrete composites that could be used to innovate transportation systems, create more durable buildings and bridges, and build resilient infrastructure.

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