Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Polymer Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Alan J. Lesser

Second Advisor

Todd S. Emrick

Third Advisor

Thomas J. Lardner

Subject Categories

Polymer Science


This dissertation describes the development and application of various mechanical characterization techniques to four types of polymer composite materials. The composite nature of these materials ranges from molecular to macro-scale, as do the size scales probed by the techniques chosen. The two main goals of this work are to evaluate the suitability of existing characterization methods to new composite materials (and augment the methods as needed), and to use these methods to determine optimal composite system parameters to maximize the desired mechanical response. Chapter 2 employs nondestructive ultrasonic spectroscopy for characterizing the stiffness response of both micron-scale woven composites and macro-scale glass-polymer-glass laminates. Both traditional wavespeed measurement as well as aspects of resonant ultrasonic spectroscopy are applied to determine material parameters. The laminates are also examined in Chapter 3, which utilizes both large-scale and small-scale quasi-static and dynamic puncture tests to elucidate the size- and rate-dependence of dynamic behavior. Because of limitations encountered with these methods, a smaller-scale, more fundamental test is developed and applied which focuses solely on the deformation and delamination of the polymer. These two processes, which account for the vast majority of energy absorbed during a puncture event, can be evaluated in terms of self-similar process zone propagation process models. Identifying and optimizing the relevant model parameters can promote the design of systems with maximum energy absorption. Exploratory work on nanocomposite systems is presented in Chapter 4. The polymer matrix from the laminated systems of the previous chapter is used to produce nanosilica composites. A range of techniques are employed to determine the level of dispersion and the mechanical reinforcement provided. The final project presented investigates copolycarbonates, or molecular composites, that have been developed to lessen the detrimental effect of aging on mechanical properties. Mechanical and thermal measurements can elucidate the effect of structure, specifically molecular mobility, on susceptibility to physical aging. The differences in molecular mobility contribute to differences in energy absorption by plastic deformation and damage, which is required for material toughness. Thus, understanding the molecular structure allows for determination of an optimal structure or copolymer concentration to maximize fracture toughness.