Additively Manufactured Strain Sensors for In-Pile Applications

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Accurate, real-time monitoring of strain in fuel, cladding, and structural components of nuclear reactors is critical to better understand radiation induced phenomena during reactor tests and operations. The data provided is crucial to verify physics-based, multiscale modeling and simulation efforts, which aim to shorten the timeline for the development of new nuclear materials. Resistive strain gauges have limited performance during in-pile experiments due to the harsh operating conditions and limited physical space between fuel and cladding components. In this work, aerosol jet printing using silver nanoparticle inks was used to fabricate interdigitated electrode capacitive strain gauges on aluminum alloy 6061 tensile specimens. To simulate the temperatures of a traditional light water reactor, the capacitive strain gauges were tested with a mechanical test frame up to 300 °C and compared to commercially available bondable resistive strain gauges. The printed capacitive strain gauges exhibited a gauge factor of 1.0 and showed higher reproducibility and predictability of strain sensing performance than the resistive strain gauge. The results demonstrate the potential of aerosol jet printing to fabricate strain sensors with predictable performance and reduced invasiveness for high-temperature applications with confined spacing.