Radiation-Induced Modification of Aramid Fibers: Optimizing Crosslinking Reactions and Indirect Grafting of Nanocellulose for Body Armor Applications

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The goal of this dissertation was to design, synthesize, and analyze novel aramid fibers by covalently grafting nanocellulose through electron beam irradiation. These nanocellulose functionalized fibers showed enhanced strength and larger surface areas, which improves their performance and applicability in fiber-reinforced composites. Unmodified aramid fibers have smooth and chemically inert surfaces, which results in poor adhesion to many types of resins. Nanocellulose was chosen as the ideal filler to functionalize the fibers due to its reactive surface and high strength-to-weight ratio. Aramid fibers were further modified by radiation-induced crosslinking reactions as a means to avoid scission of the polymeric backbone and to further increase the fiber strength.An indirect radiation-induced grafting approach was used for synthesizing these novel nanocellulose-grafted aramid fibers while avoiding the irradiation of nanocellulose. The fibers were irradiated using the e-beam linear accelerator (LINAC) at the Medical Industrial Radiation Facility (MIRF) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). After the irradiation, the fibers were kept in an inert atmosphere and then mixed with a nanocellulose solution for grafting. The grafted fibers were evaluated by gravimetric analysis, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. The mechanical properties of the synthesized fibers were studied by single fiber tensile tests. Aramid fibers were also irradiated at the MIRF in the presence of acetylene gas and triacrylate solution as a means to induce crosslinking reactions. These fibers were irradiated at both low doses and high dose rates at room temperature. A mechanism for the crosslinking of aramid fibers was proposed in this dissertation. Mechanical testing of the fibers after crosslinking showed an increase in the strength of the fibers of up to 15%. Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibers were also studied, but due to an issue of entanglement of the fibers during the grafting process, their mechanical properties could not be analyzed. Future work will focus on using a better set up to avoid entanglement of these fibers. To complete the study of the radiation effects on polymers, this thesis explored the radiation-induced degradation of aromatic polyester-based resins. The composition of the resins studied included phenyl groups and epoxies, which complicate radiation-induced grafting and crosslinking reactions. Unlike aramid and polyethylene fibers, polyester-based resins have a C-O-C bond that is susceptible to degradation. The resins were irradiated at high doses in the presence of oxygen. The scission of the polymeric backbone of the polymers was studied using Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) analysis. EPR showed the formation of alkoxyl radicals and C-centered radicals as the primary intermediate products of the C-O-C scissions. The degradation mechanisms of the resins in the presence of different solvents were proposed. Changes in the Tg of the polymers after irradiation, as an indication of degradation, were studied by Dynamic Mechanical Analysis (DMA). The results obtained from this work show that irradiation of these resins results in continuous free radical-chain reactions that lead to the formation of recyclable oligomers.