Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor's Name

Benjamin Boesl

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Co-Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Arvind Agarwal

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Co-Chair

Third Advisor's Name

Zhe Cheng

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Wenzhi Li

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fifth Advisor's Name

Baburaj Eranezhuth

Fifth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Spark Plasma Sintering, Field-assisted Sintering, Graphene, Ceramics, Indentation, Sintering Additives

Date of Defense



Ultra high temperature ceramics (UHTC) are candidate materials for high temperature applications such as leading edges for hypersonic flight vehicles, thermal protection systems for spacecraft, and rocket nozzle throat inserts due to their extremely high melting points. Tantalum and Niobium Carbide (TaC and NbC), with melting points of 3950°C and 3600°C, respectively, have high resistivity to chemical attack, making them ideal candidates for the harsh environments UHTCs are to be used in. The major setbacks to the implementation of UHTC materials for these applications are the difficulty in consolidating to full density as well as their low fracture toughness. In this study, small amounts of sintering additive were used to enhance the densification and Graphene Nanoplatelets (GNP) were dispersed in the ceramic composites to enhance the fracture toughness. While the mechanisms of toughening of GNP addition to ceramics have been previously documented, this study focused on the anisotropy of the mechanisms. Spark plasma sintering was used to consolidate both bulk GNP pellets and near full relative density TaC-NbC ceramic composites with the addition of both sintering aid and GNP and resulted in an aligned GNP orientation perpendicular to the SPS pressing axis that allowed the anisotropy to be studied. In situ high load indentation was performed that allowed real time viewing of the deformation mechanisms for enhanced analysis. The total energy dissipation when indenting the bulk GNP pellet in the in-plane GNP direction was found to be 270% greater than in the out-of-plane orientation due to the resulting deformation mechanisms that occurred. In GNP reinforced TaC-NbC composites, the projected residual damaged area as a result of indentation was 89% greater when indenting on the surface of the sintered compact (out-of-plane GNP orientation) than when indenting in the orthogonal direction (in-plane GNP orientation) which is further evidence to the anisotropy of the GNP reinforcement.





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