Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

Sharmila Mukhopadhyay (Advisor)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Surface modification of materials is a rapidly growing field as structures become smaller, more integrated and complex. It opens up the possibility of combining the optimum bulk properties of a material with optimized surface properties such as enhanced bonding, corrosion resistance, reactivity, stress transfer, and thermal, optical or electrical behavior. Therefore, surface functionalization or modification can be an enabling step in a wide variety of modern applications. In this dissertation several surface modification approaches on carbon foam and carbon nano-fibers will be discussed. These are recently developed sp 2 graphitic carbon based structures that have significant potential in aerospace, automotive and thermal applications. Influence of surface modification on composite formation and properties have also been investigated. Two types of property changes have been investigated: one for enhancing the surface reactivity and another for surface inertness. Characterization techniques such as X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS), Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), Contact Angle Measurement, Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), Transmission Electron Microscope(TEM), and mechanical testing are used in this study to find out the influence of these coatings on surface composition, chemistry, and morphology. Mechanical testing has been performed on composites and stand-alone foam to study the influence of surface modification on physical and mechanical properties of the composite materials. The effectiveness of these coatings on metallic/graphite interface has also been investigated for metal-matrix composite related applications. Additionally, the influence of plasmacoatings on nucleation and growth of nanotubes on larger carbon structures (to produce multiscale, multifunctional materials) have also been studied. It is seen that the liquid phase activation treatment introduces oxygen functional groups on the surface, but may cause severe enough degradation that damages the ligaments and cell walls of carbon foam. This results in higher elastic modulus but lower strength. So, to get any benefit from such approaches the optimization window may be very narrow and marginal in controllability. An alternative solution would be to synthesize ultra thin film coatings without etching the surfaces. It is observed that plasma assisted coatings having thickness in the range of few nanometers (4-5nm) are completely covering the graphite substrates. The coating surface, chemistry, and morphology information is based upon XPS and AFM studies on pyrolytic graphite substrate. Two types of plasma surface modification techniques have been attempted: one is to make the surface more reactive for structural components and the other is to make the surface more inert for stand-alone structures. In order to achieve these goals, plasma assisted oxide and fluorocarbon coatings are studied in detail. The synthesized oxide and fluorocarbon coating chemistries are comparable to conventional silica (SiO2) and polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, –CF2-). It is seen that the fluorocarbon coatings provide moisture resistance to graphitic foam by making the surface inert at the nanometer scale. On the other hand, plasma assisted oxidecoating is a feasible and effective means of improving the wettability and dispersion of foam and nanofibers in organic polymer matrix material. Surface analysis as well as microstructural studies and mechanical tests have shown encouraging results. The interface reactions between graphite (coated and uncoated) and epoxy have also been studied in detail. Nano-scale plasma coatings have also been applied for metal matrix composites and semiconductor related applications. The fluorocarbon c...

Page Count


Department or Program

Ph.D. in Engineering

Year Degree Awarded


Included in

Engineering Commons