Measured Against Reality

Friday, September 01, 2006

New Nanomaterial Could Improve Body Armor

A new nanomaterial with an old structure is poised to vastly improve body armor. The material has a truss-like structure, the same crisscross design used on bridges for so many years.

Its developers exposed a form of epoxy to four overlapping lasers, which caused the resin to line up in a microscopic truss pattern. The new material is less dense than regular epoxy, but has far better tensile properties, stretching to 36 times its original length before breaking, compared to 1.1 times for untreated epoxy.

This gives it the ability to absorb a lot of energy before failing. It does so by deforming, similar to the crumple-zone on a car. Edwin Thomas, the lead researcher, says, "Lots more deformation before failure means lots more energy required to break the material, means more protection for soldiers."

The technique could even be used on other materials, such as glass, making it more difficult to break, or for making improved magnetic or photonic materials.

Unfortunately, the team can only make sample about a millimeter in size. They hope to soon have meter-size samples, and to replace the lasers with something less expensive and easier to implement. They hope to have this material saving lives as soon as possible, as does everyone else.

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