The present paper considers the mechanical and fracture properties of four different epoxy polymers containing 0, 10 and 20wt.% of well-dispersed silica nanoparticles. Firstly, it was found that, for any given epoxy polymer, their Young's modulus steadily increased as the volume fraction, vf, of the silica nanoparticles was increased. Modelling studies showed that the measured moduli of the different silica-nanoparticle filled epoxy polymers lay between upper-bound values set by the Halpin-Tsai and the Nielsen 'no-slip' models, and lower-bound values set by the Nielsen 'slip' model; with the last model being the more accurate at relatively high values of vf. Secondly, the presence of silica nanoparticles always led to an increase in the toughness of the epoxy polymer. However, to what extent a given epoxy polymer could be so toughened was related to structure/property relationships which were governed by (a) the values of glass transition temperature, Tg, and molecular weight, Mc, between cross-links of the epoxy polymer, and (b) the adhesion acting at the silica nanoparticle/epoxy-polymer interface. Thirdly, the two toughening mechanisms which were operative in all the epoxy polymers containing silica nanoparticles were identified to be (a) localised shear bands initiated by the stress concentrations around the periphery of the silica nanoparticles, and (b) debonding of the silica nanoparticles followed by subsequent plastic void growth of the epoxy polymer. Finally, the toughening mechanisms have been quantitatively modelled and there was good agreement between the experimentally-measured values and the predicted values of the fracture energy, Gc, for all the epoxy polymers modified by the presence of silica nanoparticles. The modelling studies have emphasised the important roles of the stress versus strain behaviour of the epoxy polymer and the silica nanoparticle/epoxy-polymer interfacial adhesion in influencing the extent of the two toughening mechanisms, and hence the overall fracture energy, Gc, of the nanoparticle-filled polymers.
- Epoxy polymers
- Fracture energy