As new materials are developed, engineers find new ways to protect people from crashes and bullets. Take this new metal foam, for example, which can absorb the vast majority of kinetic energy of projectiles like bullets.
Interesting advancements take place at the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Center, where North Carolina researchers have mixed multiple bulletproof materials into a single piece of protection.
Just 25 millimeters thick, this armor is made up of “ceramics as the strike face, composite metal foam processed by powder metallurgy technique as a bullet kinetic energy absorber interlayer, and aluminum 7075 or Kevlar panels as backplates.”
Researchers wrote a 2015 study on the new material, which was shown off in an amazing video as it stopped and completely melted a bullet to dust with a little less than an inch of foam.
Prof. Afsaneh Rabiei, specialized in mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State, said in a statement that “the indentation made by a bullet (sized according to standards from the National Institute of Justice) is just 8 millimeters, although the standard allows for an indentation of up to 44 millimeters.”
According to the NIJ, Kevlar is the best-rated brand for bulletproof vests, deemed as standard in terms of bullet-stopping capabilities. Dyneema is also a very efficient bulletproof polymer that can stop any projectile due to its ultra-high molecular weight.
In other words, these materials have very long strands of molecules that simply entangle the bullet as it tries to penetrate it.
Law enforcement has been using ceramic plates for years when it comes to bullet-stopping armor, but this material has the disadvantage of weighing a lot (a front plate alone weight almost 8 pounds).
Polyethylene could be a viable alternative as a lighter substance that can absorb bullets by melting them at contact. However, the metallic foam can also resist to heat and breakage.
While the new material has amazing bulletproofing capabilities, the North Carolina researchers hope to use these composite metal foams for more than just defense. They added the materials could also be used as satellite protection from space debris and in areas of nuclear waste storage.
Some engineers believe the metallic foam could replace the armor on airplanes, cars, and even space shuttles, which would reduce the damage resulted from crashes.
Back in 2003, NASA’s Columbia Shuttle crashed upon re-entry, killing all seven passengers, all because of a faulty ceramic heat shield. Such damage could be prevented with the help of this new metal foam.
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