We have exfoliated hexagonal boron nitride by ultrasonication in solutions of polyvinylalcohol in water. The resultant nanosheets are sterically stabilised by adsorbed polymer chains. Centrifugation-based size-selection was used to give dispersions of nanosheets with aspect ratio (length/thickness) of ∼1400. Such dispersions can be used to produce polyvinylalcohol-BN composite films. Helium ion microscopy of fracture surfaces shows the nanosheets to be well dispersed and the composites to fail by pull-out. We find both modulus, Y, and strength, σ(B), of these composites to increase linearly with volume fraction, V(f), up to V(f)∼ 0.1 vol% BN before falling off. The rates of increase are extremely high; dY/dV(f) = 670 GPa and dσ(B)/dV(f) = 47 GPa. The former value matches theory based on continuum mechanics while the latter value is consistent with remarkably high polymer-filler interfacial strength. However, because the mechanical properties increase over such a narrow volume fraction range, the maximum values of both modulus and strength are only ∼40% higher than the pure polymer. This phenomenon has also been observed for graphene-filled composites and represents a serious hurdle to the production of high performance polymer-nanosheet composites.
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