Investigation of the mechanics of natural materials, such as spider silk, abalone shells, and bone, has provided great insight into the design of materials that can simultaneously achieve high specific strength and toughness. Research has shown that their emergent mechanical properties are owed in part to their specific self-organization in hierarchical molecular structures, from nanoscale to macroscale, as well as their mixing and bonding. To apply these findings to manmade materials, researchers have devoted significant efforts in developing a fundamental understanding of multiscale mechanics of materials and its application to the design of novel materials with superior mechanical performance. These efforts included the utilization of some of the most promising carbon-based nanomaterials, such as carbon nanotubes, carbon nanofibers, and graphene, together with a variety of matrix materials. At the core of these efforts lies the need to characterize material mechanical behavior across multiple length scales starting from nanoscale characterization of constituents and their interactions to emerging micro- and macroscale properties. In this report, progress made in experimental tools and methods currently used for material characterization across multiple length scales is reviewed, as well as a discussion of how they have impacted our current understanding of the mechanics of hierarchical carbon-based materials. In addition, insight is provided into strategies for bridging experiments across length scales, which are essential in establishing a multiscale characterization approach. While the focus of this progress report is in experimental methods, their concerted use with theoretical-computational approaches towards the establishment of a robust material by design methodology is also discussed, which can pave the way for the development of novel materials possessing unprecedented mechanical properties.
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