Date of Award

Summer 8-2017

Embargo Period


Degree Type

Dissertation (CMU Access Only)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Materials Science and Engineering


Elizabeth Holm


Single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) show a variety of unparalleled properties such as high electrical and thermal conductivity, high specific surface area (SSA) and a large stiffness under axial loads. One of the major challenges in tapping the vast potential of SWCNTs is to fabricate nanotube based macrostructures that retain the unique properties of nanotubes. Pristine SWCNT aerogels are highly porous, isotropic structures of nanotubes mediated via van der Waals (VDW) interactions at junctions. The mechanical behavior of such aerogels is examined in several experimental studies. However, it is necessary to supplement these studies with insights from simulations in order to develop a fundamental understanding of deformation behavior of SWCNT aerogels. In this study, the mechanical behavior of SWCNT networks is studied using a multi-scale modeling approach. The mechanics of an individual nanotube and interactions between few nanotubes are modeled using molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. The results from atomistic simulations are used to inform meso-scale and continuum scale finite element (FE) models. The deformation mechanism of pristine SWCNT networks under large compressive strain is deduced from insights offered by meso-scale simulations. It is found that the elasticity of such networks is governed by the bending deformation of nanotubes while the plastic deformation is governed by the VDW interactions between nanotubes. The stress response of the material in the elastic regime is dictated by the VDW stresses on nanotubes while in the plastic regime, both the VDW and axial deformation stresses on nanotubes drive the overall stress response. In this study, the elastic behavior of a random SWCNT network with any set of junction stiffness and network density is also investigated using FE simulations. It is found that the elastic deformation of such networks can be governed either by the deformation of the nanotubes (bending, axial compression) or deformation of the junctions. The junction stiffness and the network density determine the network deformation mode. The results of the FE study are also applicable to any stiff fiber network.