Date of Award

Spring 5-2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Polymers and High Performance Materials

Committee Chair

Jeffrey S. Wiggins

Committee Chair Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials

Committee Member 2

Sergei I. Nazarenko

Committee Member 2 Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials

Committee Member 3

Sarah E. Morgan

Committee Member 3 Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials

Committee Member 4

Robson F. Storey

Committee Member 4 Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials

Committee Member 5

Gopinath Subramanian

Committee Member 5 Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials


Processing carbon fiber composite laminates creates molecular-level strains in the thermoset matrix upon curing and cooling which can lead to failures such as geometry deformations, micro-cracking, and other issues. It is known strain creation is attributed to the significant volume and physical state changes undergone by the polymer matrix throughout the curing process, though storage and relaxation of cure-induced strains remain poorly understood. This dissertation establishes two approaches to address the issue. The first establishes testing methods to simultaneously measure key volumetric properties of a carbon fiber composite laminate and its polymer matrix. The second approach considers the rigidity of the polymer matrix in regards to strain storage and relaxation mechanisms which ultimately control composite performance throughout manufacturing and use.

Through the use of a non-contact, full-field strain measurement technique known as digital image correlation (DIC), we describe and implement useful experiments which quantify matrix and composite parameters necessary for simulation efforts and failure models. The methods are compared to more traditional techniques and show excellent correlation. Further, we established relationships which represent matrix-fiber compatibility in regards to critical processing constraints.

The second approach involves a systematic study of epoxy-amine networks which are chemically-similar but differ in chain segment rigidity. Prior research has investigated the isomer effect of glassy polymers, showing sizeable differences in thermal, volumetric, physical, and mechanical properties. This work builds on these themes, and shows the apparent isomer effect is rather an effect of chain rigidity. Indeed, it was found that structurally-dissimilar polymer networks exhibit very similar properties as a consequence of their shared average network rigidity. Differences in chain packing, as a consequence of chain rigidity, were shown to alter the physical, volumetric, and mechanical properties of the glassy networks. Chain rigidity was found to directly control deformation mechanisms, which were related to the yielding behavior of the epoxy network series. The unique benefit to our approach is the ability to separate the role of rigidity – an intramolecular parameter – from intermolecular phenomena which otherwise influence network properties.