Washington: A team of researchers has come up with a revolutionary material that has superior anti-penetration properties while remaining flexible.
The new material, inspired by the way nature designed fish scales, could be used to make bulletproof clothing for the military and space suits that are impervious to micro-meteorites and radiation when astronauts embark on spacewalks.
Technion-Israel Institute of Technology's Stephen Rudykh said that many species of fish are flexible, but they are also protected by hard scales, adding that taking inspiration from nature, they tried to replicate this protecto-flexibility by combining two layers of materials, one soft for flexibility and the other with armor-like scales. The secret behind this material is in the combination and design of hard scales above with soft, flexible tissue below.
Rudykh explained that generally, strength and flexibility are competing properties, but the research team found a way to increase the penetration resistance by a factor of 40, while the flexibility of the soft material was reduced by only a factor of five.
Rudykh added that that attribute allows for the fabric to be tailored to the wearer's body and the environment that the wearer will be facing, adding that this work is part of a revolution in materials properties. Once they can gain control over a material's micro properties, using 3-D printing we can create materials of an entirely different type, each with the ability to be adjusted to fit the wearer, the need, and the environment.
The researchers concluded that their findings provide new guidelines for developing simple material architectures that retain flexibility while offering protection with highly tunable properties.
They added that the tailored performance of the protective system, with characteristics that can be tuned according to the required movements at different regions of the body, draws its abilities from the microstructural geometry. The ability for a given microstructure to offer different deformation resistance mechanisms is key to achieving the multifunctional design of stiff plates and soft matrix. They found that careful selection of microstructural characteristics can provide designs optimized for protection against penetration while preserving flexibility.
The study is published in the technology journal Soft Matter.