This work focuses on the scalable synthesis and processing of nanostructures in polymer matrix nanocomposites (PMNCs) for applications that require photochemical functionality of these nanostructures. An in situ vapor deposition process using various metal and metal oxide precursors has been used to create a range of nanocomposites that display photochromic and photocatalytic behaviors. Under specific processing conditions, these composites consist of discrete nanoparticles distributed uniformly throughout the bulk of an optically transparent polymer matrix. Incorporating other chemical species as supplementary deposition agents in the synthesis process can modify these particles and produce complicated nanostructures with enhanced properties. In particular, work has been carried out to structure nanoparticles using laser irradiation. Starting with metallic or metal oxide nanoparticles in the polymer matrix, localized chemical vapor deposition in the near-particle environment has been carried out using laser irradiation to decompose chemical precursors leading to the formation of secondary structures surrounding the seed nanoparticles. Control of the spatial and temporal characteristics of the excitation source allows for synthesis of nanocomposites with a high degree of control over the location, composition and size of nanoparticles in the matrix and presents the opportunity to produce patterned materials with spatially varying properties.
Laser ultrasonic methods have been used to characterize the elastic behaviors of commercially-available and legacy nuclear graphites. Since ultrasonic techniques are sensitive to various aspects of graphite microstructure including preferred grain orientation, microcrack orientation and porosity, laser ultrasonics is a candidate technique for monitoring graphite degradation and structural integrity in environments expected in high-temperature, gas-cooled nuclear reactors. Aspects of materials texture can be assessed by studying ultrasonic wavespeeds as a function of propagation direction and polarization. Shear wave birefringence measurements, in particular, can be used to evaluate elastic anisotropy. In this work, laser ultrasonic measurements of graphite moduli have been made to provide insight into the relationship between the microstructures and the macroscopic stiffnesses of these materials. In particular, laser ultrasonic measurements have been made using laser line sources to produce shear waves with specific polarizations. By varying the line orientation relative to the sample, shear wave birefringence measurements have been recorded. Results from shear wave birefringence measurements show that an isostatically molded graphite, such as PCIB, behaves isotropically, while an extruded graphite, such as H-451, displays significant ultrasonic texture. Graphites have complicated microstructures that depend on the manufacturing processes used, and ultrasonic texture in these materials could originate from grain orientation and preferred microcrack alignment. Effects on material isotropy due to service related microstructural changes are possible and the ultimate aim of this work is to determine the degree to which these changes can be assessed nondestructively using laser ultrasonics measurements.