Professor and students researching creation of self-repairing building materials
TUSKEGEE, Ala. (June 12, 2014) — The creation of new and more resilient building materials is critical to preserving the nation’s physical infrastructure. This summer, Dr. Mohammad Kamal Hossain, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and two students are working on special materials that can self-heal or repair themselves.
“The successful completion of this research project will contribute to the development of the next generation of structural fiber-reinforced polymer composite materials for the rapid repair or strengthening of critical civil infrastructure based on a firm scientific foundation,” Hossain said. “It is also anticipated that the outcomes of this project will eventually result in new design and manufacturing methodologies strengthening the nation’s competitiveness in the global fiber-reinforced polymer market”
Hossain and his students, Felicia Horne and David Yarbrough, have been awarded a fellowship under the Department of Homeland Security’s Summer Research Team program. They will participate in collaborative research at the department’s Coastal Hazards Center at North Carolina State University. They will be working with the center’s principal investigator, Dr. Rudolf Seracino, in the Constructed Facilities Laboratory to develop and characterize self-healing composites.
A composite is a strong and lightweight material made of a fiber or fabric and a polymer. Hossain said the materials that compose the composite in this research are a carbon fabric and an epoxy polymer. Hollow glass fibers (HGF) containing the liquid healing agent and coated with the healing agent’s catalyst will be embedded within the composite laminate. The healing agent is a glue-like chemical that can repair damage. Hence, this project is designed to develop a material that can repair itself.
“In essence, it is inspired by biological systems in which damage triggers an automatic healing response. When a small cut appears on human skin, agents rush to fill the area of damage causing a clot,” Hossain said. “In a similar fashion, when a composite with self-healing ability develops a small crack inside due to man-made events, or natural hazards; the HGF will break and the healing agent will flow to the area of damage to seal it up.”
Carbon fiber reinforced epoxy samples with and without healing abilities will be manufactured and examined under bending and tension tests according to the American Society of Testing and Materials to evaluate the self-healing efficiency of these materials. Hossain said the introduction of the self-healing agent into the composite provides a secondary functionality to enhance existing repair or strengthening techniques. Current techniques are designed to counter deterioration due to environmental conditions, damage from man-made events, or natural hazards.
“Testing a little known about material is always exciting. Our results and data are going to be referred to in the future when people need to know about its properties,” said Yarbrough, a senior mechanical engineering major. “Moreover, mimicking nature is always a challenge, but integrating self-healing capabilities into the carbon fiber reinforced polymer composite will be an exciting venture since the area is not completely set yet.”
This research project began on June 2 and will end August 8 for the team. After the summer program, the project will continue at Tuskegee and North Carolina State in collaboration with the Coastal Hazards Center to study the effectiveness of the self-healing capability of the composites when subjected to low-velocity and ballistic impacts.
Horne is a rising mechanical engineering graduate student. She said participating in the summer research project will jumpstart her pursuit of her master’s degree this fall.
“Getting an education is one thing but being able to be exposed to an experience like this internship is truly an astonishing opportunity. This program will allow me to polish my research knowledge gained at TU, expand my engineering network, and broaden my scope on how I intermingle at a huge university like NCSU,” Horne said. “This research is quite intriguing and I am fortunate to be aiding the DHS in upholding one of their current missions.”
In addition to working with the leading fiber reinforced polymer composite experts in the Coastal Hazards Center, the program award includes a stipend, transportation expenses, and a housing allowance.
© 2014 Tuskegee University