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Dr. Zoubeida Ounaies (Penn State University) is the point of contact in the US of the collaboration between IIMEC and Tunisia. This year this collaboration happened with the development of natural fiber composites. There are plans to involve Prof. Hamid Kaddami at Cadi Ayyad University in the future. The interest in integrating naturally-occurring fiber materials, like Alfalfa plants, into composites is motivated by their functional and ecological qualities. Tunisia possesses abundant sources of Alfalfa plants with promising physical and mechanical characteristics. In addition, Dr. Chafra has expertise in composite modeling while Dr. Ounaies has experience with processing of composites and related structure-property relationships. The elaboration of a new composite material where the reinforcement consists of natural fibers extracted from Alfalfa plants and dispersed in an epoxy matrix has been completed. They have initiated experimental measurements to identify the thermo-mechanical properties of the natural fiber separately and in the composite material, and have developed a framework for conducting both numerical and experimental measurements. 

 Other collaboration initiated between the US and Tunisia in 2011, is a research on Nanodielectrics for energy storage: Zoubeida Ounaies has been investigating polymer nanocomposites for dielectric and capacitor applications using a variety of polymers and dielectric and metallic particles. This collaboration is with Dr. Chafra on nanodielectrics for energy storage which involves co-advising a female graduate student, Emna Helal. Ms. Helal successfully defended her M.S. thesis in November 2011 and received her M.S. from Ecole Polytechnique de Tunisie. Previous to that, she conducted her senior project in Ounaies’group as well. Specifically, the project focuses on the in situ synthesis of silver nanoparticles-polymer nanocomposites as flexible materials with improved dielectric properties for energy storage; the main focus is on synthesizing the nano-silver while achieving a small size and narrow size distributed of metal nanoparticles within the polymer matrices (PVDF and epoxy).

Emna conducted this research in Ounaies’ lab during February-July 2011. The following accomplishments were achieved: 

  • Improvement of the dielectric permittivity, the breakdown strength and the dissipative behavior of various polymer hosts.

  • A decrease of the dielectric loss of PVDF is achieved at high frequencies

  • An increase of the breakdown strength as well as the resistivity of PVDF is achieved.

  • Increase of the energy density with extremely low loading of metallic nanoparticles. The energy density of PVDF increases up to 5 times at extremely low Ag loading (0.0635 wt%).

As future plans for the US- Tunisia collaboration on development of natural fiber composites: investigate different arrangement of fibers (unidirectional, woven and random with varied lengths) both experimentally and computationally.

 Tunisia Polytechnic School – Dr. Sami El-Borgi, Dr. Fehmi Najar and Dr. Moez Chafra

The accomplishments made by this group were:

  • Mongi Rekik a PhD student from Tunisia Polytechnic School defended his PhD in March 2012 under the supervision of Dr. Sami El-Borgi and Dr. Zoubeida Ounaies on fracture mechanics of functionally graded magneto-electro-elastic materials (FGMEEM) under the framework of the IIMEC project.

  • Nidhal Jemia a master’s student from Tunisia Polytechnic School has been working on a his master’s topic at Texas A&M University from February to July 2012 under the supervision of Dr. Sami
    El-Borgi and Dr. Rashid Abe Al Rub on nano-mechanics of fracture in functionally graded materials and systems subjected to coupled electro-mechanical loading conditions. This research is critical for manufacturing reliable and sustainable electronic systems for energy storage and conversion. The student is working on writing a journal article based on this collaborative effort.

  • Abderrahmen AYEDI a senior undergraduate student from Tunisia has been working on a his graduation project at Penn State University from February to June 2012 under the supervision of Dr. Zoubeida OUNAIES on a topic related to Investigating Flexoelectricity in Soft Materials: Characterization and Application in Energy Harvesting.

  • June 01 until August 31, 2011: Fullbright visiting scholar for Dr Moez CHAFRA at Pennsylvania State University, USA. Study of new composite materials with natural reinforcement with Dr. Zoubeida OUNAIES.

 The plans for 2012 are:

  • Student exchange within the Morocco-Tunisia research collaboration program between the Tunisia Polytechnic School and University of Tangier Morocco (grant for two years).

  • Student exchange within the Morocco-Tunisia research collaboration program between the Tunisia Polytechnic School and University of Kadi Iadh Morocco (grant for two years).

  • Student exchange with Texas A&M University, Penn State University and University of Houston

  • Faculty visits to Texas A&M University, Penn State University and University of Houston