Detection of Early Stages of Degradation on PPTA Fibers Through the Use of Positron Annihilation Lifetime Spectroscopy
High-performance fibers used for ballistic protection are characterized by having outstanding mechanical properties such high modulus and strength. These mechanical properties are granted by the fiber’s chemical and physical structure as well as their high degree of orientation. Twaron fibers are one of the most commonly used fibers on soft body armors such as bulletproof vests. They are made from poly (p-phenylene terephthalamide) (PPTA), a rigid-rod and highly crystalline polymer. Although these fibers are crystalline and have great mechanical properties, their performance can decrease when they are exposed to different degradation factors. Free volume is the unoccupied space between the polymer molecules. It is responsible for characteristics such as diffusion and viscosity. Hence, the free volume changes as the polymer degrades. This thesis focuses on the effects of sonication, pH changes, and sweat on the free volume of PPTA fibers.
A non-destructive technique known as positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy (PALS) was used to measure the free volume in PPTA. Changes in the free volume of fibers degraded under different conditions were compared to their mechanical performance. Degradation in DI water, pH 4 and pH 10 aqueous solutions was conducted for 10 weeks at 80oC. Sweat degradation of PPTA fibers was also conducted for 10 weeks at 25oC, 50oC, and 100oC. Fibers degraded in pH4 and sweat solutions had greater loss of mechanical performance and changes in the free volume. PALS was able to detect changes in the nanostructure of PPTA fibers at early stages of degradation. This data was supported by mechanical tests and is complementary to other characterization techniques such as small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). Results of this research are a steppingstone for future studies on lifetime predictions of bulletproof vests and the development of the next generation of soft body armors.