New Material Could Revolutionize Armor, Shields

New Material Could Revolutionize Armor, Shields

Carbon impact
Photo by: Courtesy

Researchers at the Army’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies have identified a new material that could make armor and blast shields lighter and stronger. 

The research, done in partnership with Caltech and ETH Zürich, found that the new material was more effective than Kevlar and steel at stopping a projectile. The breakthrough is significant, as Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, must strike a balance between ensuring gear is light but also effective. 

Increasing protection while simultaneously decreasing the weight that soldiers carry is an overreaching theme in our research,” James Burgess, Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies program manager, said in an Army press release. “This project is a really good example of such efforts where projectile energy absorption is nanostructured mechanism based.”

The new material is made of a dense, repeating lattice pattern that absorbs shock but remains intact when projectiles are fired at it because they become embedded in the material instead of tearing through it. 

“The knowledge from this work … could provide design principles for ultra-lightweight impact resistant materials [for use in] efficient armor materials, protective coatings, and blast-resistant shields desirable in defense and space applications,” said Julia Greer, professor of materials science, mechanics and medical engineering at Caltech, whose lab fabricated the material. 

Until now, most research on this type of materials, known as nanoarchitected materials, focused on it undergoing slower changes, but the Army’s research offers key insights into fast deformation, like the breakdown that happens from high-velocity impacts. 

Given the high-velocity impacts that soldiers may experience in the field, researchers set out to create a material that would perform well under those conditions and stand strong under more extreme force, said Carlos Portela, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies is based.  

In the future, Portela said, he will continue to expand the material and use it more widely. 

“Nanoarchitected materials truly are promising as impact-mitigating materials,” he said. “There’s a lot we don’t know about them yet, and we’re starting this path to answering these questions and opening the door to their widespread applications.”