Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy


Materials Science and Engineering

First Adviser

Pearson, Raymond A.

Other advisers/committee members

Watanabe, Masashi; Vinci, Richard; Step, Eugene


Epoxies are widely used as underfill resins throughout the microelectronics industry to mechanically couple and protect various components of flip-chip assemblies. Generally rigid materials largely surround underfill resins. Improving the mechanical and thermal properties of epoxy resins to better match those of their rigid counterparts can help extend the service lifetime of flip-chip assemblies. Recently, researchers have demonstrated that silica nanoparticles are effective toughening agents for lightly-crosslinked epoxies. Improvements in the fracture toughness of silica-filled epoxy nanocomposites have primarily been attributed to two toughening mechanisms: particle debonding with subsequent void growth and matrix shear banding. Various attempts have been made to model the contribution of these toughening mechanisms to the overall fracture energy observed in silica-filled epoxy nanocomposites. However, disparities still exist between experimental and modeled fracture energy results. In this dissertation, the thermal, rheological and mechanical behavior of eight different types of silica-filled epoxy nanocomposites was investigated. Each nanocomposite consisted of up to 10 vol% of silica nanoparticles with particle sizes ranging from 20 nm to 200 nm, with a variety of surface treatments and particle structures. Fractographical analysis was conducted with new experimental approaches in order to accurately identify morphological evidence for each proposed toughening mechanism. Overall, three major insights into the fracture behavior of real world silica-filled epoxy nanocomposites were established. First, microcracking was observed as an essential toughening mechanism in silica-filled epoxy nanocomposites. Microcracking was observed on the surface and subsurface of fractured samples in each type of silica-filled epoxy nanocomposite. The additional toughening contribution of microcracking to overall fracture energy yielded excellent agreement between experimental and modeled fracture energy results. Furthermore, the contribution of microcracking was most prevalent at lower filler contents which suggests that the presence of microcracking may account for the previously unexplained improvements in fracture behavior attained in silica-filled epoxy nanocomposites at low filler contents. Secondly, surface modification through the application of three different propriety surface treatments (“A”, “B” and “C”) was found to greatly influence the processibility and fracture behavior of silica-filled epoxy nanocomposites. B-treated silica nanoparticles were found to readily form micron-scale agglomerates, settled during nanocomposite curing and showed no improvement in fracture toughness with increasing filler content. In contrast, the nanocomposites consisting of A-treated and C-treated silica nanoparticles yielded morphologies primarily containing well-dispersed nanoparticles. Therefore, fracture toughness improved with increasing filler content. Finally, particle porosity was found to have no significant effect on fracture behavior for the range of silica-filled epoxy nanocomposites investigated. Lower density porous silica nanoparticles were just as effective toughening agents as higher density non-porous silica nanoparticles. Consequently, the potential exists for the use of toughened-epoxies in lightweight structural applications.