Could fish – and more specifically, their scales – protect us from bullets and space debris? According to a recent discovery at the Technion, the answer is quite possibly
Could fish protect us from bullets and space debris? According to a recent discovery at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, the answer is quite possibly.
Assistant Professor Stephan Rudykh used 3D printing to create a material with two layers, a soft flexible one, and a tough, impervious layer, despite the fact that durability and toughness are not usually present in the same material. He got the inspiration to create this from fish, which are a notable exception to this rule.
As he explains in a statement, “Flexibility and strength are considered as usually competing properties: As one increases the other decreases.” However, “Fish are flexible creatures, but are protected by hard scales. Their ‘secret’ is the combination of the scales and the soft tissue beneath them, and that is what I tried to mimic here.”
The material’s strength is expressed primarily in its ability to withstand penetration, and as such, two of its theoretical uses could be flexible bulletproof uniforms and spacesuits that protect the wearer from micro-meteorites. The combination of these two elements has allowed Rudykh to create a material where the penetration resistance was increased by a factor of 40, while incurring a loss of flexibility by only a factor of five.
Implications for wearables
The discovery of this material is the next step in the wearable innovations being introduced by 3D printing – from the fashion industry’s creation of printable materials that act like fabric, to helmets that provide better protection to football players. This material essentially combines the best of these two innovations, allowing the protective properties to be flexibly applied to the entire body.
Speaking to Geektime, Assistant Professor Rudykh explained that the main form of innovation was actually in the way these two materials were combined. “We found that playing with the geometry of these materials, we can enhance the durability and flexibility of the materials.” This means that other, more durable materials could be used for the resistant shell, using the same geometrical principles. “We were limited by the types of materials that we could print with our printer,” Rudykh explains. “But other materials can be applied in the same way.”
Rudykh joined the Technion faculty as the head of their Mechanics of Soft Materials Lab after completing his post-doctoral studies at MIT. He originally started out as a theorist, but he found that 3D printing allowed him to put theories into practice. “Suddenly I could make the materials that I was designing,” he says, “and then check if their properties match my theoretical projections.”
Although his most recent research has been published in the journal Soft Matter, Rudykh is cautious about being too specific about the application of his creation – emphasizing that his goal is to perfect the material itself. He did tell Geektime, however, that he believes it could be applied towards protecting soldiers, as well as protecting humans who venture into space from space debris and radiation.
It is important to note that the current prototype has only been tested in quasi-static tests, meaning it has only been impacted at relatively slow speeds. Future tests are planned that will test the material’s durability against high-speed projectiles and particles to assess whether this material could used to protect the combatants and spacemen of the future.
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