Planes, trains and automobiles: faster, stronger, lighter
New technique advances carbon-fiber composites.May 20, 2013
Postdoc Stephen Steiner (right) and graduate student Richard Li are part of the research team. Photo: David Castro-Olmedo/MIT
These days, aerospace engineering is all about the light stuff: building airplanes with lighter wings, fuselage and landing gear in an effort to reduce fuel costs. Advanced carbon-fiber composites have been used in in aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380, reducing their weight by 20 percent.
Carbon fibers coated with nanotubes.
For the next generation of commercial jets, researchers are looking to even stronger and lighter materials, such as composites made with carbon fibers coated with carbon nanotubes — tiny tubes of crystalline carbon. But a significant hurdle to achieving such composites lies at the nanoscale: Scientists who have tried growing carbon nanotubes on carbon fibers have found that doing so significantly degrades the underlying fibers, stripping them of their inherent strength.
Now a team from MIT has identified the root cause of this fiber degradation, and devised techniques to preserve the fibers’ strength. “Up until now, people were basically improving one part of the material but degrading the underlying fiber, and it was a trade-off, you couldn’t get everything you wanted,” says Brian Wardle, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. “With this contribution, you can now get everything you want.”
A paper detailing the results by Wardle and his colleagues is published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. Co-authors are postdoc Stephen Steiner, who contributed to the research as a graduate student, and Richard Li, a graduate student who was an undergraduate in Wardle’s lab. Read more at the MIT News Office.