The authors investigate the effect of carbon nanotubes (CNT) on the microstructure, nanomechanical properties, and fracture performance of three-phase polymer matrix composites (PMC). Two types of carbon fiber (CF)-Epoxy-CNT composites with different nanofiller distribution were studied at the nanoscale with PeakForce Quantitative Nanomechanical mapping technique (PFQNM) and macroscale with mode I fracture testing to clarify the relationship between nanofiller interphase properties and mode I fracture performance. CNT agglomerates were identified on the polished sample surface in well-dispersed and agglomerated form. AFM data showed the inhomogeneity of nanoscale local mechanical properties in CNT-rich zones. Variation in material properties is attributed to voids, CNT alignment, and changes in density of the matrix and CNT nanoparticles. A higher resolution AFM scanner and Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy are necessary to observe nano-scale interphase mechanical properties and CNT orientation, respectively. Mode I interlaminar fracture testing demonstrated the effectiveness of CNT nanoparticles in preventing crack-jump and fiber-bridging effects. GIC for FCNT is 0.345±0.06 N-mm/mm2 at crack initiation, compared to 0.28±0.03 N-mm/mm2 for the plain epoxy reference sample. CNT nanoparticles increase the energy required for interlaminar fracture by promoting crack deflection and strengthening the interphase between CF and epoxy matrix through increased interfacial surface area.

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