Nanocoating to help monitor safety of aircraft, bridges

Dr Chan inspecting a small piece of the nanocomposite material.
Dr Chan inspecting a small piece of the nanocomposite material.
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Dr Chan inspecting a small piece of the nanocomposite material.
Dr Chan inspecting a small piece of the nanocomposite material.

May 21, 2009 One of the promising applications for the emerging field of nanotechnology is the monitoring of large-scale infrastructures, such as bridges. The latest foray into this field comes from the Queensland University of Technology's (QUT) School of Engineering – it is studying a new nanocomposite material that could improve the maintenance of large-scale infrastructure and provide early warning of any deterioration.

Preventative maintenance and close monitoring of large infrastructure like bridges, ships and airplanes is vital in looking for defects or general wear and tear. If not attended to, they can become highly dangerous and expensive to repair.

According to QUT School of Engineering Systems senior lecturer Dr Cheng Yan, if a small piece of the new polymer nanocomposite with carbon nanotube fillers is placed over various surfaces of the infrastructure, it would assist as an early warning system.

"It looks like a piece of thin black sheeting but it can act as a sensor to monitor the strength of infrastructure such as bridges, aircraft, and ships," Dr Yan explains.

"Large infrastructure like these must be monitored constantly for cracks, metal fatigue and warping over time so that repairs can be carried out before the damage becomes critical."

Light, strong, easy and cheap to install, the new nanocomposite was more adoptable than many current systems, Dr Yan says.

Maintenance personnel could monitor the small changes in conductivity which occur when strain is applied to the sensor placed at crucial points on a structure. "It can be also fabricated as a large sensor network attached to the surface of a structure, similar to the neural system in the human body, applying to the detection of car crash and structural health monitoring for various structures," Dr Yan says.

QUT has joined with the universities in the Australian Technology Network (ATN) to establish the ATN-ISTA NanoNetwork with the International Strategic Technology Alliance (ISTA) of universities in China to further research nanotechnology. For more information visit QUT.

David Greig

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