Toughness of carbon nanotubes conforms to classic fracture mechanics

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Science Advances  05 Feb 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 2, e1500969
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500969


Defects in crystalline structure are commonly believed to degrade the ideal strength of carbon nanotubes. However, the fracture mechanisms induced by such defects, as well as the validity of solid mechanics theories at the nanoscale, are still under debate. We show that the fracture toughness of single-walled nanotubes (SWNTs) conforms to the classic theory of fracture mechanics, even for the smallest possible vacancy defect (~2 Å). By simulating tension of SWNTs containing common types of defects, we demonstrate how stress concentration at the defect boundary leads to brittle (unstable) fracturing at a relatively low strain, degrading the ideal strength of SWNTs by up to 60%. We find that, owing to the SWNT’s truss-like structure, defects at this scale are not sharp and stress concentrations are finite and low. Moreover, stress concentration, a geometric property at the macroscale, is interrelated with the SWNT fracture toughness, a material property. The resulting SWNT fracture toughness is 2.7 MPa m0.5, typical of moderately brittle materials and applicable also to graphene.

  • carbon nanotube
  • SWNT
  • carbon nanotube fiber
  • CNTF
  • fracture mechanics
  • fracture toughness
  • defect
  • graphene

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