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Graphene coating makes carbon nanotube aerogels superelastic and resistant to fatigue

Nature Nanotechnology volume 7, pages 562566 (2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

Lightweight materials that are both highly compressible and resilient under large cyclic strains can be used in a variety of applications1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Carbon nanotubes offer a combination of elasticity, mechanical resilience and low density9, and these properties have been exploited in nanotube-based foams10,11,12,13,14 and aerogels15,16. However, all nanotube-based foams and aerogels developed so far undergo structural collapse15 or significant plastic deformation with a reduction in compressive strength10,11,13,14 when they are subjected to cyclic strain. Here, we show that an inelastic aerogel made of single-walled carbon nanotubes can be transformed into a superelastic material by coating it with between one and five layers of graphene nanoplates. The graphene-coated aerogel exhibits no change in mechanical properties after more than 1 × 106 compressive cycles, and its original shape can be recovered quickly after compression release. Moreover, the coating does not affect the structural integrity of the nanotubes or the compressibility and porosity of the nanotube network. The coating also increases Young's modulus and energy storage modulus by a factor of 6, and the loss modulus by a factor of 3. We attribute the superelasticity and complete fatigue resistance to the graphene coating strengthening the existing crosslinking points or ‘nodes’ in the aerogel.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank T. Kowalewski and M. Zhong for providing polyacrylonitrile polymer, and W. Goldberg, K. N. Dahl, M. Widom, M. Deserno, A. Roy and V. Varshney for valuable discussions. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant nos DMR-0645596, CBET-0933510 and DMR-0619424), the Sloan Foundation, the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund and the Korea Institute of Energy Research.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213-3890, USA

    • Kyu Hun Kim
    • , Youngseok Oh
    •  & M. F. Islam

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Contributions

M.F.I. conceived the project. K.H.K., Y.O. and M.F.I. designed the experiments. K.H.K. and Y.O. synthesized the aerogels and performed the experiments. K.H.K., Y.O. and M.F.I. analysed the data. K.H.K., Y.O. and M.F.I. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. F. Islam.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2012.118

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