Thermal control of nanostructure and molecular network development in epoxy-amine thermosets.
ABSTRACT Epoxy-amine resins find wide application as the matrix material of high performance polymer composites because of their favorable mechanical properties, thermal properties and solvent stability. These properties result from the complicated, highly cross-linked molecular network that is characteristic of epoxy-amine thermoset polymers. The connectivity of the molecular network has a strong influence on the physical performance of the finished part. Nonhomogeneity in the network structure can degrade these favorable properties through the introduction of low-energy pathways for solvent penetration or fracture propagation. This work examines the influence of cure temperature on the network-building cross-linking reaction and the subsequent effect on the homogeneity of the cross-linked molecular network. Specific attention is paid to nanoscale variation in the distribution of cross-link density. Thermal, rheological, and spectroscopic techniques are used to monitor key chemical and structural changes during network growth. Atomic force microscopy is used to understand nanoscale fracture behavior in terms of the low energy pathways that result from a nonhomogeneous distribution of cross-link density. The influence of processing-induced changes in molecular connectivity is discussed in terms of observed nanoscale morphology and fracture properties of the cured material.