The trend towards higher reliance on fiber-reinforced composites for structural components has led to the need to rethink current nondestructive evaluation (NDE) strategies. In principle, embeddable sensor schemes are desired for green-light/red-light structural health monitoring systems that do not negatively affect the properties and performance of the host structure. However, there are still numerous challenges that need to be overcome before these embedded sensing technologies can be realized for real-world structural systems. For example, some of these issues and challenges include the damage detection sensitivity/threshold, reliability of the system, transportability of the system to multiple configurations and different types of structural components, and signal processing/interpretation. The objective of this study is to develop a novel, embedded sensing system that can accurately quantify damage to composites without interfering with structural performance and functionality. In particular, this study will utilize multi-walled carbon nanotube (MWNT)-polyelectrolyte (PE) thin films deposited on a glass fiber substrate for in situ composite structural monitoring. A layer-by-layer (LbL) film fabrication methodology is employed for depositing piezoresistive nanocomposites directly onto glass fiber fabrics, and the resulting film exhibits excellent strain sensing performance, homogeneity, and exhibits no phase segregation. Specifically, the LbL fabrication process will employ polycationic poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) and polyanionic poly(sodium 4-styrene sulfonate) (PSS) doped with MWNTs for fabricating the electrically-conductive and piezoresistive thin films. Upon film deposition, the glass fiber substrates are infused with an epoxy matrix via wet-layup to fabricate self-sensing glass fiber-reinforced polymer (GFRP) composite specimens for testing. A frequency-domain approach, based on electrical impedance spectroscopy, is used to characterize the electromechanical response of the GFRP-MWNT-based thin film samples when subjected to complex uni-axial tensile load patterns. A resistor connected to a parallel resistor-capacitor circuit model is proposed for fitting experimental impedance spectroscopic measurements. It has been found that the series resistor models the bulk thin film piezoresistive performance accurately. In addition, these impedance measurements shed light on the glass fiber-thin film interaction electromechanical behavior. Bi-functional strain sensitivity is observed for all GFRP specimens, and the transition point of bilinear strain sensitivity is utilized as a possible metric for GFRP damage detection.

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