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The Virginia Engineer's Feature Articles

Nanotubes Aid Detection and Repair of Stress-Induced Cracks

December, 2007

Adding even a small amount of carbon nanotubes can go a long way toward enhancing the strength, integrity, and safety of plastic materials widely used in engineering applications, according to a new study.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have recently developed a simple new technique for identifying and repairing small, potentially dangerous cracks in high-performance aircraft wings and many other structures made from polymer composites. By infusing a polymer with electrically conductive carbon nanotubes, and then monitoring the structure’s electrical resistance, the researchers were able to successfully pinpoint the location and length of a stress-induced crack in a composite structure. Once a crack has been located, engineers can then send a short electrical charge to the area in order to heat up the carbon nanotubes and in turn melt an embedded healing agent that will flow into and seal the crack with a 70 percent recovery in str