Surface contacts strongly influence the elasticity and thermal conductivity of silica nanoparticle fibers†
Granular materials are often encountered in science and engineering disciplines, in which controlling the particle contacts is one of the critical issues for the design, engineering, and utilization of their desired properties. The achievable rapid fabrication of nanoparticles with tunable physical and chemical properties facilitates tailoring the macroscopic properties of particle assemblies through contacts at the nanoscale. Models have been developed to predict the mechanical properties of macroscopic granular materials; however, their predicted power in the case of nanoparticle assemblies is still uncertain. Here, we investigate the influence of nanocontacts on the elasticity and thermal conductivity of a granular fiber comprised of close-packed silica nanoparticles. A complete elastic moduli characterization was realized by non-contact and non-destructive Brillouin light spectroscopy, which also allowed resolving the stiffness of the constituent particles in situ. In the framework of effective medium models, the strong enhancement of the elastic moduli is attributed to the formation of adhesive nanocontacts with physical and/or chemical bondings. The nanoparticle contacts are also responsible for the increase in the fiber thermal conductivity that emphasizes the role of interface thermal resistance, which tends to be ignored in most porosity models. This insight into the fundamental understanding of structure–property relationships advances knowledge on the manipulation of granular systems at the nanoscale.