MIT breakthrough could lead to paper-thin bullet-proof armor
Scientists have theorized that paper-thin composite nanomaterials could stop bullets just as effectively as heavy weight body armor, but progress has been hampered by their inability to reliably test such materials against projectile impacts. Researchers at MIT and Rice University have developed a breakthrough stress-test that fires microscopic glass beads at impact-absorbing material. Although the projectiles are much smaller than a bullet, the experimental results could be scaled up to predict how the material would stand up to larger impacts.
The glass beads, described as "millionths of a meter in diameter," are propelled using a laser pulse technique developed by MIT's Keith Nelson over several years. His technique was modified with the help of scientists from Rice University in experiments conducted at MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. Their work, reported in the journal Nature Communications, was supported by the U.S. Army Research Office, which is keen to reduce the burden on soldiers who currently wear armor that contains cumbersome plating an inch thick.
The team's self-assembling polymer is made by alternating flexible and rigid material layers just a nanometer thick, which can be seen clearly in cross-section with an electron microscope. This allows them to see precisely how the material has deformed after an impact. By studying multiple impacts, the team found that their material was 30 percent more resilient to head-on (rather than edge-on) collisions, a discovery which could change how current protective materials are made.
"It’s a novel and useful approach that will provide needed understanding of the mechanisms governing how a projectile penetrates protective vests and helmets," said Donald Shockey, director of the Center for Fracture Physics at SRI International (unaffiliated with the project), as quoted by David Chandler of the MIT News Office.
The researchers still need to develop a way to record these impacts in real time in order to best understand them, but their tests could accelerate the development of paper-thin military body armor or shielding for satellites, space suits, and shuttles, and more.
Source: MIT News Office
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Am I looking at it, wrong?
Additionally, having the armour held away from the skin could mean that some form of simple ventilation system could be employed to keep the soldier cool- I hate to think how much those guys must sweat in the heat of Afghanistan or Iraq.
Fabricate a few different materials and fire some bullets into them. That way the material gets out into the marketplace where it can be utilized and the over focused PhD's can figure out the "why it works" details later.
I wonder how far behind we'd be if we just discovered iron and it was up to the guys at MIT to determine why it's able to cut through wood before we made a saw.
So, extending the duration of the impact event from microseconds to milliseconds, turns a Gigawatt interaction into a longer, but lower power megawatt or tens-of-kilowatts interaction. Nobody's getting liquefied.
Things do change with a .50 BMG... that's more or less the kinetic energy of a full size pickup being dropped on your chest from about ten-twelve feet up. *Splat*