Self-sensing capability of composite materials has been the core of intensive research over the years and particularly boosted up by the recent quantum leap in nanotechnology. The capacity of most existing self-sensing approaches is restricted to static strains or low-frequency structural vibration. In this study, a new breed of functionalized epoxy-based composites is developed and fabricated, with a graphene nanoparticle-enriched, dispersed sensing network, whereby to self-perceive broadband elastic disturbance from static strains, through low-frequency vibration to guided waves in an ultrasonic regime. Owing to the dispersed and networked sensing capability, signals can be captured at any desired part of the composites. Experimental validation has demonstrated that the functionalized composites can self-sense strains, outperforming conventional metal foil strain sensors with a significantly enhanced gauge factor and a much broader response bandwidth. Precise and fast self-response of the composites to broadband ultrasonic signals (up to 440 kHz) has revealed that the composite structure itself can serve as ultrasound sensors, comparable to piezoceramic sensors in performance, whereas avoiding the use of bulky cables and wires as used in a piezoceramic sensor network. This study has spotlighted promising potentials of the developed approach to functionalize conventional composites with a self-sensing capability of high-sensitivity yet minimized intrusion to original structures.
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