Activation of Mechanophores in a Thermoset Matrix by Instrumented Scratch

Chelsea S. Davis*, Mitchell L. Rencheck, Jeremiah W. Woodcock, Ryan Beams, Muzhou Wang, Stephan Stranick, Aaron M. Forster, Jeffrey W. Gilman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Scratches in polymer coatings and barrier layers negatively impact optical properties (haze, light transmission, etc.), initiate routes of degradation or corrosion (moisture permeability), and nucleate delamination of the coating. Detecting scratches in coatings on advanced materials systems is an important component of structural health monitoring but can be difficult if the defects are too small to be detected by the naked eye. The primary focus of the present work is to investigate scratch damage using fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) and mechanical activation of a mechanophore (MP)-containing transparent epoxy coating. The approach utilizes a Berkovich tip to scratch MP-epoxy coatings under a linearly increasing normal load. The goal is to utilize the fluorescent behavior of activated MPs to enable the detection of microscale scratches and molecular scale changes in polymeric systems. Taking advantage of the amine functionality present in a polyetheramine/bisphenol A epoxy network, a modified rhodamine dye is covalently bonded into a transparent, thermoset polymer network. Following instrumented scratch application, subsequent fluorescence imaging of the scratched MP-epoxy reveals the extent of fluorescence activation induced by the mechanical deformation. In this work, the rhodamine-based mechanophore is used to identify both ductile and fracture-dominated processes during the scratch application. The fluorescence intensity increases linearly with the applied normal load and is sensitive to fracture dominated processes. Fluorescence lifetime and hyperspectral imaging of damage zones provide additional insight into the local (nanoscopic) environment and molecular structure of the MP around the fracture process zone, respectively. The mechanophore/scratch deformation approach allows a fluorescence microscope to probe local yielding and fracture events in a powerful way that enhances the optical characterization of damage zones formed by standard scratch test methods and leads to novel defect detection strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55498-55506
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 24 2021


  • damage sensing
  • epoxy
  • instrumented scratch
  • mechanophore
  • organic coating
  • polymer
  • strain sensor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Activation of Mechanophores in a Thermoset Matrix by Instrumented Scratch'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this