Mechanical Properties of Carbon Nanotubes

This article considers the Mechanical Properties of Carbon Nanotubes in the Radial (transverse) Direction.

Carbon nanotube is one of the strongest materials in nature. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are basically long hollow cylinders of graphite sheets. Although a graphite sheet has a 2D symmetry, carbon nanotubes by geometry have different properties in axial and radial directions. It has been shown that CNTs are very strong in the axial direction. Young's modulus on the order of 270 - 950 GPa and tensile strength of 11 - 63 GPa were obtained.

On the other hand, there was evidence that in the radial direction they are rather soft. The first transmission electron microscope observation of radial elasticity suggested that even the van der Waals forces can deform two adjacent nanotubes. Later, nanoindentations with atomic force microscope were performed by several groups to quantitatively measure radial elasticity of multiwalled carbon nanotubes and tapping/contact mode atomic force microscopy was recently performed on single-walled carbon nanotubes. Young's modulus of on the order of several GPa showed that CNTs are in fact very soft in the radial direction.

Radial direction elasticity of CNTs is important especially for carbon nanotube composites where the embedded tubes are subjected to large deformation in the transverse direction under the applied load on the composite structure.

One of the main problems in characterizing the radial elasticity of CNTs is the knowledge about the internal radius of the CNT; carbon nanotubes with identical outer diameter may have different internal diameter (or the number of walls). Recently a method using an atomic force microscope was introduced to find the exact number of layers and hence the internal diameter of the CNT. In this way, mechanical characterization is more accurate.

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