Could pearls help save a soldier’s life?
Scientists are looking at pearls in an innovative U.S. Army research project to bolster body armor.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo have simulated mother of pearl, or the outer coating of pearls, to create a lightweight plastic described as 14 times stronger and eight times lighter than steel. In a statement, the Army says that the material is “ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.”
The research, which is funded by the Army Research Office (ARO), is published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials.
“The material is stiff, strong and tough,” said Shenqiang Ren, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Buffalo University and the paper’s lead author, in the statement. “It could be applicable to vests, helmets and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters and other vehicles.”
Ren is also a member of the University at Buffalo’s RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water) Institute.
Most of the material used is a “souped-up version of polyethylene,” according to the Army. This ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, is used for the likes of artificial hips and guitar picks.
Researchers have studied the structure of mother of pearl, which is created by mollusks who arrange a form of calcium carbonate into something that “resembles interlocking bricks.”
“Like mother of pearl, the researchers designed the material to have an extremely tough outer shell with a more flexible inner backing that’s capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles,” the Army said in its statement.
“In contrast to steel or ceramic armor, UHMWPE could also be easier to cast or mold into complex shapes, providing versatile protection for soldiers, vehicles, and other Army assets,” said Evan Runnerstrom, Ph.D., program manager, materials design at ARO, in the statement.
Silica nanoparticles have also been used to potentially create even stronger armor.
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