Carbon nanotube (CNT)-based sensors for structural health monitoring (SHM) can be embedded in structures of all geometries to monitor conditions both inside and at the surface of the structure to continuously sense changes. These CNTs can be manipulated into specific orientations to create small, powerful, and flexible sensors. One of the sensors is a highly flexible sensor for crack growth detection and strain field mapping that features a very dense and highly ordered array of single-walled CNTs.

CNT structural health sensors can be mass-produced, are inexpensive, can be packaged in small sizes (0.5 micron2), require less power than electronic or piezoelectric transducers, and produce less waste heat per square centimeter than electronic or piezoelectric transducers.

Chemically functionalized lithographic patterns are used to deposit and align the CNTs onto metallic electrodes. This method consistently produces aligned CNTs in the defined locations. Using photo- and electron-beam lithography, simple Cr/Au thin-film circuits are patterned onto oxidized silicon substrates. The samples are then re-patterned with a CNT-attracting, self-assembled mono-layer of 3-aminopropyltriethoxysilane (APTES) to delineate the desired CNT locations between electrodes. During the deposition of the solution-suspended single-wall CNTs, the application of an electric field to the metallic contacts causes alignment of the CNTs along the field direction. This innovation is a prime candidate for smart skin technologies with applications ranging from military, to aerospace, to private industry.

This work was done by Russell Wincheski and Jeffrey Jordan of Langley Research Center; Donald Oglesby, Anthony Watkins, and JoAnne Patry of Swales Aerospace; Jan Smits of Lockheed Martin; and Phillip Williams of National Research Council. LAR-16475-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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