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Enhancing Composite Toughness Through Hierarchical Interphase Formation

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Advanced Science
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High strength and ductility are highly desired in fiber-reinforced composites, yet achieving both simultaneously remains elusive. A hierarchical architecture is developed utilizing high aspect ratio chemically transformable thermoplastic nanofibers that form covalent bonding with the matrix to toughen the fiber-matrix interphase. The nanoscale fibers are electrospun on the micrometer-scale reinforcing carbon fiber, creating a physically intertwined, randomly oriented scaffold. Unlike conventional covalent bonding of matrix molecules with reinforcing fibers, here, the nanofiber scaffold is utilized ‒ interacting non-covalently with core fiber but bridging covalently with polymer matrix ‒ to create a high volume fraction of immobilized matrix or interphase around core reinforcing elements. This mechanism enables efficient fiber-matrix stress transfer and enhances composite toughness. Molecular dynamics simulation reveals enhancement of the fiber-matrix adhesion facilitated by nanofiber-aided hierarchical bonding with the matrix. The elastic modulus contours of interphase regions obtained from atomic force microscopy clearly indicate the formation of stiffer interphase. These nanoengineered composites exhibit a ≈60% and ≈100% improved in-plane shear strength and toughness, respectively. This approach opens a new avenue for manufacturing toughened high-performance composites.