Mechanics of capillary forming of aligned carbon nanotube assemblies

Sameh Tawfick, Zhouzhou Zhao, Matthew Maschmann, Anna Brieland-Shoultz, Michael De Volder, Jeffery W. Baur, Wei Lu, A. John Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Elastocapillary self-assembly is emerging as a versatile technique to manufacture three-dimensional (3D) microstructures and complex surface textures from arrangements of micro- and nanoscale filaments. Understanding the mechanics of capillary self-assembly is essential to engineering of properties such as shape-directed actuation, anisotropic wetting and adhesion, and mechanical energy transfer and dissipation. We study elastocapillary self-assembly (herein called "capillary forming") of carbon nanotube (CNT) microstructures, combining in situ optical imaging, micromechanical testing, and finite element modeling. By imaging, we identify sequential stages of liquid infiltration, evaporation, and solid shrinkage, whose kinetics relate to the size and shape of the CNT microstructure. We couple these observations with measurements of the orthotropic elastic moduli of CNT forests to understand how the dynamic of shrinkage of the vapor-liquid interface is coupled to the compression of the forest. We compare the kinetics of shrinkage to the rate of evporation from liquid droplets having the same size and geometry. Moreover, we show that the amount of shrinkage during evaporation is governed by the ability of the CNTs to slip against one another, which can be manipulated by the deposition of thin conformal coatings on the CNTs by atomic layer deposition (ALD). This insight is confirmed by finite element modeling of pairs of CNTs as corrugated beams in contact and highlights the coupled role of elasticity and friction in shrinkage and stability of nanoporous solids. Overall, this study shows that nanoscale porosity can be tailored via the filament density and adhesion at contact points, which is important to the development of lightweight multifunctional materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5190-5198
Number of pages9
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 30 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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