The unique properties of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) represent a potential for developing a piezo-resistive strain sensor and a resistive heating sheet with a smart structure. Conventional fabrication techniques of CNT based nanocomposites such as molding, casting or spray coating lack the ability to control the geometry and properties of fabricated composites. In order to meet the various requirements of strain sensing or self-heating applications, nanocomposites with complex geometry and controllable properties are in high demand. Digital printing technique is able to fabricate CNT films with precisely controlled geometry with the help of computer aided design, and their properties could also be controlled by adjusting the printing parameters. The objective of this study is to investigate the printing-structure-property relationship of CNT based multifunctional nanocomposites fabricated by digitally controlled spray deposition process for strain sensing and self-heating. A spray deposition modeling (SDM) printer that uses a 12-array inkjet nozzle attached to an x-y plotter was developed for the fabrication of CNT layers. Most of previously-reported CNT based nanocomposite strain sensors only have limited stretchability and sensitivity for measuring diverse human motions. Additionally, strain sensors fabricated by traditional techniques are only capable of measuring strain in a single direction, but for monitoring human motion with complicated strain condition, strain sensors that can measure strain from multi-direction are favorable. In this dissertation, highly stretchable (in excess of 45% strain) and sensitive (gauge factor of 35.75) strain sensors with tunable strain gauge factors were fabricated by incorporating CNT layers into polymer substrate using SDM printing technique. The cyclic loading-unloading test results revealed that the composite strain sensors exhibited excellent long-term durability. Due to the flexibility of the printing technique, rosette-typed sensors were fabricated to monitor complicated human motions. These superior sensing capabilities of the fabricated nanocomposites offer potential applications in wearable strain sensors. Resistive heating properties of CNT based nanocomposites were also investigated. The electrically resistive heating of these composites can be a desirable stimulus to activate the shape memory effect of polymer matrix. CNT based nanocomposites fabricated by traditional techniques showed a slow heating rate and same shape recovery ratio at different locations in nanocomposites. However, from the practical applications like smart skin or smart tooling perspective, programmable shape recovery ratio at specified locations are desirable. In this dissertation, the CNT based nanocomposites with a fast heating rate and controllable maximum surface temperature were fabricated using SDM technique. The study on the shape memory effect of nanocomposites showed that their shape recoverability was approximately 100% taking 30s under a low voltage of 40V. It is worth noting that through programming the number of printed CNT layers at different locations, the shape recovery rate could be controlled and localized actuation with the desired recovery ratio was achieved. The high efficiency of heating coupling with wide adjustability of surface temperature and shape recovery ratio at specified locations make the fabricated nanocomposites a promising candidate for electrical actuation applications.

Graduation Date





Gou, Jihua


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Materials Science Engineering

Degree Program

Materials Science and Engineering









Release Date

August 2018

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)