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Building and Breaking Carbon Composites with REACTER



Carbon-based composites have become indispensable materials in aerospace and other high-performance applications, yet obtaining a detailed, nanoscale understanding of their morphology and failure mechanisms using only experimental methods remains a difficult challenge. REACTER is a versatile computational modeling tool for atomistic molecular dynamics simulations designed to model chemical reactions at the speed and length scales of classical force fields. In this work, several recent features of REACTER were applied to the creation and subsequent mechanical testing of two classes of carbon composites: carbon nanotube (CNT) composites and carbon fiber reinforced polymers (CFRP). A network of CNTs was grown dynamically using the new ‘create atoms’ feature of REACTER. The CNT filler was embedded into a polyarylacetylene (PAA) matrix by simulated in situ polymerization to obtain the final composite model. To generate the second class of carbon composite, fully carbonized (graphitic) carbon fiber morphologies were created by the method of Desai et al. [1], but using the advanced reaction constraints framework of REACTER. Two fiber models were created, representing a circular carbon fiber core and a flat surface, and similarly infiltrated with resin to obtain the final CFRP structure. Failure mechanisms were elucidated by simulating mechanically induced bond breaking, as characterized by third order DFT-based tight-binding simulations, via a reaction constraint on the total potential energy of the involved atoms.


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