Polymer-based composites are composed of two or more materials and are designed to have bulk material properties superior to the individual components. Composites often consist of a polymer matrix throughout which a filler material is distributed in the form of fibers or particles. The filler may be added to improve the strength or the impact resistance of the composite. A key factor in composite design is controlling the interface between the filler and the matrix material, for example, increasing adhesion to improve the transfer of stress and improve the composite strength.
This interface is small compared to the size of the filler particles, typically with a thickness ranging from ~100 nm up to a few microns. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is therefore a powerful technique to characterize these interfaces since it can measure nanomechanical properties and morphology at nanometer-scale resolution.
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