Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
A transfer printing method was developed to transfer carbon nanotubes (CNTs) from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) film to poly(dimethyl siloxane) (PDMS) polymer. Carbon nanotubes are composed of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice structure, which are electrically conducting. When embedded in a nonconducting polymer, carbon nanotubes impart electrical conductivity to the nanocomposite, thus forming a nanocomposite that has potential applications in highly sensitive strain and pressure sensors. Several printing methods have been studied to deposit carbon nanotubes onto PDMS, including inkjet printing. Inkjet printing is a desirable deposition method since it is low-cost, simple, and allows the processing of aqueous-based inks. However, directly inkjet printing carbon nanotubes onto PDMS has been a challenge because the printed film becomes non-uniform due to the uneven drying of the droplets. Therefore, a method of transfer printing was developed to embed carbon nanotubes uniformly in PDMS.
The transfer printing method consists of first inkjet printing patterns of carbon nanotubes onto a PET film, which quickly absorbs the aqueous ink and allows uniformity of the printed carbon nanotube patterns. The next step is spin-coating PDMS on the PET film to cover the carbon nanotube patterns, followed by curing the PDMS. The following step is thermally treating the PET film to promote the transfer of carbon nanotubes to PDMS, and finally peeling off PDMS from PET film to complete the transfer of carbon nanotube patterns. The transferred patterns had widths as small as 125 µm, while the obtained PDMS thickness was as low as 27.1 µm, which enabled the fabrication of highly sensitive force and pressure sensors.
The transfer printing method was employed to fabricate a two-dimensional force sensor, which was composed of lines of carbon nanotubes in the x and y directions. The transduction mechanism lies in the generation of strain on the carbon nanotube pattern. When strain is produced, the resistance of the pattern changes due to the increase or decrease of the number of conduction paths in the carbon nanotube pattern. The practical application as a two-dimensional sensor was shown by monitoring the touch force exerted by multiple objects on the sensor.
Due to the flexibility and stretchability of PDMS, fabricated air pressure sensors were capable of detecting small pressure differences. The sensors were composed of a circular diaphragm containing inkjet-printed carbon nanotube patterns. When air pressure increased on one side of the diaphragm, the deflection caused a strain on the CNT line, thus changing its resistance. Pressure sensors with a diaphragm diameter of five millimeters, diaphragm thickness of 27.1 µm showed sensitivity of 10.99 percent change in resistance per kilopascal (%/kPa) and limit of detection of 3.1 Pa. The pressure sensor has potential applications in monitoring minute air pressure differences such as those generated by the breathing pattern. The application of the highly sensitive and biocompatible pressure sensor was shown through the measurement of the pressure generated by a 3D-printed respiratory system.
Huther da Costa, Tallis, "Fabrication and Application of Flexible Sensors" (2020). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 5356.