Predicting fatigue: Nanocrystals reveal damaged material

Nov 29, 2012
This is a picture of zinc oxide tetrapods taken by scanning electron microscope. Credit: Picture of zinc oxide tetrapods taken by scanning electron microscope - Copyright 2012, Wiley; reproduced with permission (DOI:10.1002/adma.201203849)

A small crack in a metal wheel caused Germany's worst-ever rail accident—the 1998 Eschede train disaster. The problem: it was practically impossible to detect damage of that nature to a metal by inspecting it externally. But now scientists have succeeded in making material fatigue visible. They designed new synthetic materials that emit light to report high mechanical stress.

The scientists of Kiel University, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and the Technische Universität München (TUM) have published their results in the current issue of the journal Advanced Materials.

"The luminescent features of tetrapod crystals are well established. According to our work hypothesis, these characteristics showed pronounced variations under a mechanical load, and we realised that it could help to detect internal damages of composite materials", says Dr. Yogendra Mishra of Kiel University's Technical Faculty. In one experiment, the scientists added zinc oxide tetrapod shaped crystals to a silicone (polydimethylsiloxane) polymer and tested its general properties. They found that the resulting composite material is on the one hand stronger than silicon and on the other hand emits light in different colors when exposed to UV light. When the material is subjected to , the intensities of the emitted lights changes.

The experimental setup shows how the composite material was stretched and exposed to light. At the same time, the reflecting light was measured. Credit: Copyright 2012, Wiley; reproduced with permission (DOI:10.1002/adma.201203849)

"The micro-nano sized crystals give a visual warning when the is about to fail under stress", explains PhD student Xin Jin. "The alteration of the luminescent characteristics of defined semiconductor microstructures under load – as we could show for zinc oxide – might be also interesting of many other phosphor material systems", adds Professor Cordt Zollfrank who leads the research area 'biogeneous polymers' at TUM. "We expect further interesting developments in this emerging field on "self-reporting materials".

Composite are used in diverse fields from to spacecrafts. They are made from two or more constituent materials with different properties such as silicone and zinc oxide crystals which together render better properties. On demands, they can be designed to be light-weight, mechanically robust and still inexpensive. Professor Rainer Adelung, leader of the study, says: "Zinc oxide crystals seem to be an excellent component to design numerous specific composite materials – also for constructions in which stability is critical to life."

Explore further: Building the ideal rest stop for protons

More information: Xin Jin, Michael Götz, Sebastian Wille, Yogendra Kumar Mishra, Rainer Adelung, Cordt Zollfrank (2012): A novel concept for self-reporting materials: Stress sensitive photoluminescence in ZnO tetrapod filled elastomers, Advanced Materials, doi: adma.201203849

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Crystal clear research

Sep 06, 2011

( -- Scientists have successfully created synthetic crystals whose structures and properties mimic those of naturally occurring biominerals such as seashells.

Strength is shore thing for sea shell scientists

Mar 08, 2010

( -- Scientists have made synthetic 'sea shells' from a mixture of chalk and polystyrene cups - and produced a tough new material that could make our homes and offices more durable.

How to see through opaque materials

Mar 08, 2010

New experiments show that it's possible to focus light through opaque materials and detect objects hidden behind them, provided you know enough about the material.

Recommended for you

Building the ideal rest stop for protons

10 hours ago

Where protons, or positive charges, decide to rest makes the difference between proceeding towards ammonia (NH3) production or not, according to scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and ...

Cagey material acts as alcohol factory

11 hours ago

Some chemical conversions are harder than others. Refining natural gas into an easy-to-transport, easy-to-store liquid alcohol has so far been a logistic and economic challenge. But now, a new material, designed ...

User comments : 0