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Surprising Science

Stopping Projectiles At The Nano Level

Scientists from MIT and Rice have created a self-assembling material comprised of ultra-thin layers, as well as a groundbreaking test that allowed them to observe up close how the layers worked to prevent projectiles from penetrating.

What’s the Latest Development?

A group of scientists and engineers from MIT and Rice University recently published a paper in Nature Communications describing their results with a “structured polymer composite” that self-assembles into alternating rubbery and glassy layers, each of which is a few nanometers wide. The team then came up with an innovative test that involved shooting tiny glass beads into the material, simulating bullets being fired from a gun, and then used a scanning electron microscope to study the results.

What’s the Big Idea?

Up until now, there was no way to truly prove whether these materials worked at the nano level. With the tests, which were conducted at MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, scientists have demonstrated that it’s possible to create body armor that’s even lighter than already-lightweight Kevlar-based versions. Besides its obvious benefits to bulletproof vests, this level of nano-protection could improve any type of material that can be negatively affected by a projectile impact, such as windshields, vehicle armor, jet engine blades, and even satellites. The team is now looking at varying the layers’ thickness and composition and trying out different structures to see how well they perform in impact tests.

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