If you have ever had to put on body armor for any reason, you know how cumbersome, hot and restrictive it is, not to mention expensive. Suppose I told you that researchers at North Carolina University have come up with a new type of armor that will not only stop bullets, but destroy them at a fraction of the cost and weight? That’s right, Even armor-piercing bullets cannot get through this armor.
And the amazing part is that it is made of a new type of foam. Professor Afsaneh Rabiei led the team that created the amazing foam. This is not a foam that you might think of, something to sleep on or shave with. This is special foam, a whole new concept called composite metal foams, or CMF. Already it has people in the military and law enforcement taking notice.
But the new composite material is not just for protecting military and law enforcement personnel from gunshots, in the form of an advanced, ultra light body armor. Developers believe other variants of the foam are possible that would also protect the military and first responders from the dangers of radiation and extreme heat too.
Preliminary tests have shown that the new foam-based armor can even foil armor piercing rounds. But it doesn’t just stop the bullets, it literally turns them to dust. In recent tests, the foam body armor was able to defeat an armor-piercing bullet. And on impact, the foam smashed the bullet into powder.
Of course the foam still requires a trauma plate to disburse the energy, but in test a composite shield was made using the foam backed by boron carbide ceramics on the impact side. The side next to the wearer was made of Kevlar a lightweight bullet proof material. Then the tests were conducted using standard 7.62 x 63 mm M2 armor-piercing rounds.
Amazingly, the foam absorbed almost all the bullet’s kinetic energy. In fact, the foam proved so effective that an armor-piercing round could penetrate less than an inch into the facing side of the shield. When researchers removed the shield, they were pleased to find that on the inside surface, the same bullet was only able to cause an 8 mm indentation on the area against the wearer.
To put this in perspective, the standard set by The National Institute of Justice allows an indentation of up to 44 mm on the trailing surface after an impact. That means that the new material performed more than 80 percent better than the current maximum standard.
While the process to manufacture the new foam is still very complicated, it is basically produced by taking molten metal and bubbling gas through it. That process causes the metal to create sort of froth, like when you boil oatmeal on a stove. As the froth cools, it becomes a high-density, lightweight, ultra strong matrix material.
The team has also created a shield material that will can block radiation. They say that foam is able to stop and block X-rays. In tests, it can even protect against various forms of gamma rays. Scientists say gamma rays are produced in nuclear fission. But the test showed the foam could also protect against neutron radiation that can be produced by nuclear fission or fusion.
The new lightweight foam could have far reaching applications especially in the areas of Defense, transportation, and the future space program.