Experimental shock-absorbing materials can prevent projectiles from traveling at more than 3,000 miles per hour

Image: Wikimedia – Nathan Burr and Kurt Grover from Aimed Research (other)

A team of researchers from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, used a protein called talin, which acts as the cell’s “natural shock absorber,” to create a new shock-absorbing material capable of stopping projectiles traveling at supersonic speeds without destroying them. them in the process.

The development of materials to improve the effectiveness of armor is not an exclusive endeavor of the world’s militaries. Bumper materials have benefits in other areas as well. In the aerospace industry, they will be essential as we continue to expand our presence in space, where even tiny particles moving at supersonic speeds can cause significant damage to spacecraft. Even other researchers could benefit from breakthroughs in the field, particularly those experimenting with high-velocity projectiles that ultimately need to be safely stopped.

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The current design of projectile-blocking armor and materials uses a combination of ceramic and fiber-based components combined together, which are effective at stopping a high-velocity object passing directly through them, but end up transferring too much of the projectile’s kinetic energy onto the armored vehicle or person, often resulting in Non-fatal injuries. These materials also tend to get destroyed in the process, requiring replacement after each use. This new research brings us one step closer to solving the unique challenges of developing shock-absorbing materials.

At the molecular level, talin has a structure that unfolds under tension to dissipate energy and then flexes again afterwards, making it ready to absorb shock over and over again, keeping cells resilient against external forces. When the protein was combined with other components and polymerized into TSAM (or talin shock absorbent material), the unique shock absorption properties were preserved.

To test the effectiveness of TSAM, the researchers subjected it to the impacts of basalt particles (about 60 micrometers in size, or roughly the diameter of a human hair) and later, larger aluminum shards, traveling at 1.5 km/s. That’s over 3,300 mph, which is three times faster than the speed of a 9mm bullet fired from a handgun. Not only were the particles completely absorbed by the TSAM affected, but the particles themselves were not destroyed in the process.

The size of these test materials means that the particles didn’t transfer as much energy to the TSAMs as a projectile fired from something like a tank, but it does help prove their potential. Ultimately, the researchers are confident that the hydrogel can be incorporated into lighter, wearable body armor for soldiers that do a better job of absorbing collision energy, while retaining their shock-absorbing abilities, even after saving lives.

It is potentially most useful to the aerospace industry, both for spacecraft protection and for research on space debris, dust and micrometeorites, which can be captured without being destroyed in the process. Of course, it is easier to study captured fine particles than to study a handful of deadly dust. But much more important to regular Gizmodo readers is how this new material is incorporated into smartphone cases, making our expensive investment as durable and resilient as the nearly indestructible Nokia phones of years ago.

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