This work describes a model of the piezoresistive behavior in nanocomposite sensors. These sensors are also called flexible sensors because the polymer matrix allows for large deformations without failure. The sensors have conductive nanoparticles dispersed through an insulative polymer matrix. The insulative polymer gaps between nanoparticles are assumed to be possible locations for electron tunneling. When the distance between two nanoparticles is small enough, electrons can tunnel from one nanoparticle to the next and ultimately through the entire sensor. The evolution of this gap distance with strain is important to understand the overall conductivity of the strain sensor. The gap evolution was modeled in two ways: (1) applying Poisson's contraction to the sensor as a homogenous material, referred to as Simple Poisson's Contraction (SPC) and (2) modeling the nanoparticle-polymer system with Finite Element Analysis (FEA). These two gap evolution models were tested in a random resistor network model where each polymer gap was treated as a single resistor in the network. The overall resistance was calculated by solving the resistor network system. The SPC approach, although much simpler, was sufficient for cases where various orientations of nanoparticles were used in the same sensor. The SPC model differed significantly from the FEA, however, in cases where nanoparticles had specific alignment, e.g. all nanoparticles parallel to the tensile axis. It was also found that the distribution used to determine initial gap sizes for the polymer gaps as well as the mean of that distribution significantly impacted the overall resistivity of the sensor.Another key part of this work was to determine if the piezoresistivity in the sensors follows a percolation type behavior under strain. The conductance versus strain curve showed the characteristic s-curve behavior of a percolative system. The conductance-strain curve was also compared to the effective medium and generalized effective medium equations and the latter (which includes percolation theory) fit the random resistor network much more closely. Percolation theory is, therefore, an accurate way to describe this polymer-nanoparticle piezoresistive system.Finally, the FEA and SPC models were compared against experimental data to verify their accuracy. There are also two design problems addressed: one to find the sensor with the largest gauge factor and another to determine how to remove the characteristic initial spike in resistivity seen in nanocomposite sensors.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Mechanical Engineering

Date Submitted


Document Type





nanocomposite sensor, percolation theory, piezoresistivity, quantum tunneling