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Distinct Roles of Tensile and Compressive Stresses in Graphitizing and Properties of Carbon Nanofibers


It is generally accepted that inducing molecular alignment in a polymer precursor via mechanical stresses influences its graphitization during pyrolysis. However, our understanding of how variations of the imposed mechanics can influence pyrolytic carbon microstructure and functionality is inadequate. Developing such insight is consequential for different aspects of carbon MEMS manufacturing and applicability, as pyrolytic carbons are the main building blocks of MEMS devices. Herein, we study the outcomes of contrasting routes of stress-induced graphitization by providing a comparative analysis of the effects of compressive stress versus standard tensile treatment of PAN-based carbon precursors. The results of different materials characterizations (including scanning electron microscopy, Raman and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopies, as well as high-resolution transmission electron microscopy) reveal that while subjecting precursor molecules to both types of mechanical stresses will induce graphitization in the resulting pyrolytic carbon, this effect is more pronounced in the case of compressive stress. We also evaluated the mechanical behavior of three carbon types, namely compression-induced (CIPC), tension-induced (TIPC), and untreated pyrolytic carbon (PC) by Dynamic Mechanical Analysis (DMA) of carbon samples in their as-synthesized mat format. Using DMA, the elastic modulus, ultimate tensile strength, and ductility of CIPC and TIPC films are determined and compared with untreated pyrolytic carbon. Both stress-induced carbons exhibit enhanced stiffness and strength properties over untreated carbons. The compression-induced films reveal remarkably larger mechanical enhancement with the elastic modulus 26 times higher and tensile strength 2.85 times higher for CIPC compared to untreated pyrolytic carbon. However, these improvements come at the expense of lowered ductility for compression-treated carbon, while tension-treated carbon does not show any loss of ductility. The results provided by this report point to the ways that the carbon MEMS industry can improve and revise the current standard strategies for manufacturing and implementing carbon-based micro-devices.

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