The experimental shock-absorbing material can stop bullets traveling at over 3,000 MPH

The experimental shock-absorbing material can stop bullets traveling at over 3,000 MPH

The experimental shock-absorbing material can stop bullets traveling at over 3,000 MPH

Photo: Wikimedia - Nathan Boor & Kurt Groover of Aimed Research (more)

Photo: Wikimedia – Nathan Boor and Kurt Groover of Aimed Research (more)

A team of researchers from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, has used a protein called talin, which acts as the cell’s “natural shock absorber”, to create a new cushioning material that can stop projectiles traveling at supersonic speeds without destroy them in the process.

The development of materials to improve the effectiveness of armor is not unique to militaries around the world. Shock-absorbing materials have advantages in other fields 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. Other researchers can also benefit from breakthroughs in this field, especially those conducting experiments with high-velocity projectiles that ultimately need to be stopped safely.

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The current design of armor and bullet-blocking materials uses a mix of ceramic and fiber-based components layered together, which are effective at preventing a high-velocity object from going straight through them, but end up transferring a lot of the energy projectile kinetics on the armored vehicle or person, often resulting in non-fatal injuries. These materials also tend to break down in the process, requiring replacement after each use. This new research brings us one step closer to solving the unique challenges of developing impact-absorbing materials.

At the molecular level, talin has a structure that unfolds under tension to dissipate energy and then folds back again, leaving it ready to absorb shock again and again, keeping cells resistant to external forces. When the protein was combined with other ingredients and polymerized into a TSAM (or Talin Shock Absorbing Material), those unique shock absorbing properties were retained.

To test the effectiveness of the TSAMs, the researchers subjected them to impacts of basalt particles (about 60 ┬ÁM in size, or roughly the diameter of a human hair) and subsequently, larger aluminum flakes, traveling at 1.5 kilometers per second. They’re over 3,300 miles per hour and three times faster than the speed of a nine-millimeter bullet fired from a hand gun. Not only was the particle impact fully absorbed by the TSAM material, but the particles themselves were not destroyed in the process.

The sizes of these test materials indicate that the particles weren’t imparting as much energy to the TSAMs as a shell fired from something like a tank would, but it helps demonstrate their potential. Ultimately, the researchers are hopeful that the hydrogel could be incorporated into lighter wearable armor for soldiers that better absorb the energy of an impact, while retaining their shock-absorbing capabilities, even after saving a life.

It would potentially be even more useful for the aerospace industry, both for protecting spacecraft and for research involving space debris, dust and micrometeoroids, all of which could be captured without being destroyed in the process. Of course, captured micrometeroids would be easier to study than a handful of decimated dust. But far more important to regular Gizmodo readers is how this new material can be incorporated into smartphone cases, making our expensive investments as durable and tough as the nearly indestructible Nokia phones of years ago.

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