X-ray scattering as an effective tool for characterizing liquid metal composite morphology†
Quantitative analysis of particle size and size distribution is crucial in establishing structure–property relationships of composite materials. An emerging soft composite architecture involves dispersing droplets of liquid metal throughout an elastomer, enabling synergistic properties of metals and soft polymers. The structure of these materials is typically characterized through real-space microscopy and image analysis; however, these techniques rely on magnified images that may not represent the global-averaged size and distribution of the droplets. In this study, we utilize ultra-small angle X-ray scattering (USAXS) as a reciprocal-space characterization technique that yields global-averaged dimensions of eutectic gallium indium (EGaIn) alloy soft composites. The Unified fit and Monte Carlo scattering methods are applied to determine the particle size and size distributions of the liquid metal droplets in the composites and are shown to be in excellent agreement with results from real-space image analysis. Additionally, all methods indicate that the droplets are getting larger as they are introduced into composites, suggesting that the droplets are agglomerating or possibly coalescing during dispersion. This work demonstrates the viability of X-ray scattering to elucidate structural information about liquid metal droplets for material development for applications in soft robotics, soft electronics, and multifunctional materials.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Soft Robotics