Engineers Discover New Method to Determine Surface Properties at the Nanoscale

As machines get smaller, knowing characteristics can make huge engineering differences.

Engineering researchers at Texas Tech University have developed a method for characterizing the surface properties of materials at different temperatures at the nanoscale.

Knowing properties of materials at different temperatures is important in engineering, said Gregory McKenna, a professor of chemical engineering and the John R. Bradford Endowed Chair in Engineering. For example, the rubber O-ring that failed during the 1986 space shuttle disaster serves at a tragic case study of what can go wrong when decision-makers don’t take this into account.

The problem, he said, is known properties of a material can radically change at the nanoscale – a tiny scale about 1/1000 of the diameter of a human hair at which scientists have begun building machines that do work. McKenna and graduate student Meiyu Zhai looked at several polymers and explosive materials to see how surface properties varied at the nanoscale and how the surface impacts the nanoscale properties.

Their first results on the “multi-curve method” appeared in the peer-reviewed journal, Journal of Polymer Science Part B: Polymer Physics and was highlighted in Advances in Engineering.

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