Liquid Body Armor
Reported August 2006
NEWARK, Del. (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- Hard, heavy, stiff and bulky is how most cops describe their bullet-proof vests, but relief could be in sight. One coat of this gooey liquid turns soft fabric into a tough, stab-proof, bullet-proof material.
It's not just in the movies. Our men and women in blue put their lives on the line every day, and this may be their next weapon against crime. It's no normal, flimsy piece of fabric after it's soaked in shear-thickening fluid, which turns soft material into solid protective gear.
"The material becomes very hard and prevents the projectile from moving through the fabric," Norman Wagner, Ph.D., a rheologist at the University of Delaware in Newark, tells Ivanhoe.
Rheologists, who study the unusual flow of materials, developed the liquid. Now, it's being tested on Kevlar to make bullet-proof vests as comfortable as regular clothing.
"A normal vest is 30, 40 layers of Kevlar fabric tightly packed together," Wagner says. "We can potentially reduce the number of layers, making the material lighter, more flexible, better -- easier to wear."
To prove the liquid's toughness, an ice pick goes right through untreated fabric, but it's stopped by fabric coated with the new liquid. Tiny, hard particles in the liquid cluster together and jam when struck by a sudden force. Fabric coated in the liquid becomes hard enough to stop a bullet, while remaining flexible.
Wagner says, "We want to improve current body armor technology and make it resistant to many different threats -- not just ballistic, but also fragmentations such as bombs."
The military plans to use the liquid technology to improve Kevlar vests for troops, a must-have body armor that saves lives. Researchers will also test the liquid technology in fabric for pants and sleeves, areas that aren't covered by a traditional Kevlar vest.
Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:
Norman Wagner, Ph.D.
University of Delaware
Materials Research Society
Warrendale, PA 15086-7573
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