Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering–Engineering Mechanics (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Gregory M. Odegard


The thermoset epoxy resin EPON 862, coupled with the DETDA hardening agent, are utilized as the polymer matrix component in many graphite (carbon fiber) composites. Because it is difficult to experimentally characterize the interfacial region, computational molecular modeling is a necessary tool for understanding the influence of the interfacial molecular structure on bulk-level material properties. The purpose of this research is to investigate the many possible variables that may influence the interfacial structure and the effect they will have on the mechanical behavior of the bulk level composite. Molecular models are established for EPON 862-DETDA polymer in the presence of a graphite surface. Material characteristics such as polymer mass-density, residual stresses, and molecular potential energy are investigated near the polymer/fiber interface. Because the exact degree of crosslinking in these thermoset systems is not known, many different crosslink densities (degrees of curing) are investigated. It is determined that a region exists near the carbon fiber surface in which the polymer mass density is different than that of the bulk mass density. These surface effects extend ~10 Å into the polymer from the center of the outermost graphite layer. Early simulations predict polymer residual stress levels to be higher near the graphite surface. It is also seen that the molecular potential energy in polymer atoms decreases with increasing crosslink density.

New models are then established in order to investigate the interface between EPON 862-DETDA polymer and graphene nanoplatelets (GNPs) of various atomic thicknesses. Mechanical properties are extracted from the models using Molecular Dynamics techniques. These properties are then implemented into micromechanics software that utilizes the generalized method of cells to create representations of macro-scale composites. Micromechanics models are created representing GNP doped epoxy with varying number of graphene layers and interfacial polymer crosslink densities. The initial micromechanics results for the GNP doped epoxy are then taken to represent the matrix component and are re-run through the micromechanics software with the addition of a carbon fiber to simulate a GNP doped epoxy/carbon fiber composite. Micromechanics results agree well with experimental data, and indicate GNPs of 1 to 2 atomic layers to be highly favorable.

The effect of oxygen bonded to the surface of the GNPs is lastly investigated. Molecular Models are created for systems with varying graphene atomic thickness, along with different amounts of oxygen species attached to them. Models are created for graphene containing hydroxyl groups only, epoxide groups only, and a combination of epoxide and hydroxyl groups. Results show models of oxidized graphene to decrease in both tensile and shear modulus. Attaching only epoxide groups gives the best results for mechanical properties, though pristine graphene is still favored.