The main aim of my research within the Electrical Power Engineering (EPE) group revolves around electrical investigations on Polymer nanocomposite materials. My host polymer is Polyethylene oxide (PEO), one of the most commonly tested soluble polymers â yet it is to date rarely used for any applications. Being a soluble polymer with high levels of oxygen there are clear limitations to its use, however it is believed that perhaps addition of clays or additives could create a composite with more suitable properties. My research takes many different molecular weight PEOâs to create composites with non-functionalised Montmorillonite (MMT) clay and Silicon dioxide of varying ratios. Current molecular weights investigated vary between 100,000 gmol-1 up to 1,000,000 gmol-1 however future work will involve 300 / 3,200 / 20,000 / 4,000,000 gmol-1 molecular weights to provide a more complete analysis. Further composite research may also include Boehmite as another additive.
Investigation into these composite materials includes: solution rheology and analysis with the Ostwald-de Waele / De Kee / Carreau models; thermal differential scanning calorimetry analysis using the Avrami technique; AC ramp electrical breakdown strength; dielectric properties; fourier transform infra-red; thermal aging of PEO. Using these experimental methods it will be possible to characterise the properties of the virgin polymer and then the changes inherent with addition of the fillers. The results from this investigation should provide a greater understanding of how the filler affects the host matrix and the consequential properties. With this knowledge it is hoped that PEO composites could be used more widely as an improved material.
Research like this is essential in modern society with factors other than material cost, ease of production and safety being considered, such as environmental impact. With the increasing climate and environmental worries along with the constant demand for cheaper re-usable materials with improved qualities, research in materials has become one of the forefronts of modern science. The University of Southampton has a world class status with regard to research, and rightly so with the richly equipped Tony Davis High Voltage Laboratory housing many researchers of electrical and material testing. When deciding on an institution for postgraduate research into polymer nanocomposites, there was one clear frontrunner that I wanted to work forâ¦and now Iâm there.