Quantitative insights into the stress-transfer mechanisms that determine the mechanical properties of tunicate cellulose whisker/poly(vinyl acetate) nanocomposites were gained by Raman spectroscopy. The extent of stresstransfer is influenced by local orientation (or anisotropy) of the whiskers, which in turn is governed by the processing conditions used to fabricate the nanocomposites. Solution-cast materials display no microscopic anisotropy, while samples that were cast and subsequently compression molded contain both isotropic regions as well as domains of locally oriented whiskers. Polarized optical microscopy showed these regions to have dimensions in the hundreds of μm. Polarized Raman spectroscopy of the 1095 cm-1 Raman band, associated with C - O ring stretching of the cellulose backbone, was used to quantify the local orientation of the cellulose whiskers. Clear and discernible shifts of this Raman band upon uniaxial deformation of nanocomposite films were further used to determine the level of stress experienced by the cellulose whiskers, ultimately reflecting the levels of stress-transfer predominantly between the poly(vinyl acetate) matrix and the tunicate whiskers, but also between the whiskers within the network. In the isotropic regions, where whiskers form a percolating network, the observed Raman shift rate with respect to strain is smaller than in the regions where the whiskers are uniaxially orientated. The Raman shift is strongly affected by the presence of water, leading to a lack of stress-transfer when the samples are fully hydrated, which is clearly detected by the Raman technique. Heating of the nanocomposites above the glass transition temperature of the polyvinyl acetate) matrix also reduces the stress experienced by the individual whiskers.
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