We have investigated the rheology of an uncured epoxy fluid containing high aspect ratio (length/thickness ≈ 160) α-zirconium phosphate (ZrP) nanoplatelets with smectic order. The nanoplatelets were exfoliated into monocrystalline sheets with uniform thickness using a monoamine-terminated oligomer. The oligomers were densely grafted to the plate surfaces and behave as a molecular brush. Suspensions containing ∼2 vol.% ZrP and above show liquid crystalline order with scattering peaks characteristic of a smectic (layered) mesophase. At much higher loading, ∼4 vol.% ZrP, there is a sharp transition in visual appearance, steady shear rheology, and linear and non-linear viscoelasticity that is attributed to the reversible interdigitation of oligomer chains between closely spaced layers. The oligomers are proposed to serve as inter-lamellar bridges that store elastic stresses for intermediate rates of deformation, but are able to relax on longer time scales. Under steady shearing conditions, the smectic suspensions with "overlapped" microstructure show a discontinuous flow curve characteristic of shear banding that is attributed to the dynamic pull-out of oligomer chains from the overlap region. At high shear rates, the limiting viscosity of the concentrated suspensions is on the same order of magnitude as the unfilled suspending fluid. When the rate of deformation is reduced below a critical time scale, the original network strength, and corresponding microstructure, is recovered through a passive self-healing process. The unique combination of concentration-dependent yield stress, low post-yield viscosity, and self-healing is potentially useful for various applications in the liquid state, and desirable for scalable processing of nanocomposite materials for structural applications.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Condensed Matter Physics