The Army Could Field Armor Based on Pearls and LEGOs
The lightweight coating could greatly improve the protection of soldiers, aircraft, and armored vehicles.
On the surface, pearls and LEGOs don’t seem to have much in common, and their connection to body armor seems more unusual still. However, all three have quite a bit in common, something U.S. Army researchers discovered when trying to figure out how to better protect soldiers on the battlefield.
While scientists at the U.S. Army’s Army Research Lab were researching ways to make tougher, more lightweight armor, they found the outer coating of pearls made for exceptionally tough armored protection. The coating, built with nacre or “mother of pearl,” is made from mollusks out of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate isn't particularly strong, but can be made considerably more resistant to impact by arranging it into a structure that resembles LEGO-like interlocking bricks.
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The result, the researchers claim, is an extremely tough outer shell with “a more flexible inner backing that's capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles.” This technology could be applied to body armor to benefit humans, a process known as biomimetics.
The new armor technology takes ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, and adds silica nanoparticles for strength. The result, the Army Research Lab says, is a “lightweight plastic that is 14
times stronger and eight times lighter (less dense) than steel and ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.” Kevlar, used in many types of armors, is five times stronger than steel.
"The material is stiff, strong, and tough," Dr. Shenqiang Ren, project lead and professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at University at Buffalo, told the Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs. "It could be applicable to vests, helmets, and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters and other vehicles."
A further benefit is that the armor has high thermal conductivity, allowing it to dissipate heat from kinetic energy faster and absorb transferred energy from bullets and other projectiles.
The new UHMWPE armor is also easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, says Dr. Evan Runnerstrom, program manager, materials design, Army Research Office. "In contrast to steel or ceramic armor," he says, "UHMWPE could also be easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, providing versatile protection for Soldiers, vehicles, and other Army assets."
The new material is still in the research and development phase, but the technology sounds promising enough that it could soon see a practical application. When it comes to armor, lighter is always better. Just ask the men and women who wear it.
Read entire article here: https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/research/a29153176/army-armor-pearls-legos/