A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has created a shock-absorbing material that protects like a metal, but is lighter, stronger and reusable. The new foam-like material has numerous potential applications in products such as helmets, body armour and automobile and aerospace parts.
‘We are excited about our findings on the extreme energy-absorption capability of the new material,’ said Sung Hoon Kang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. ‘The material offers more protection from a wide range of impacts, but being lighter, could reduce fuel consumption and the environmental impact of vehicles while being more comfortable for protective-gear wearers.’
Kang wanted to create a material that was better at absorbing energy than current car bumpers and helmet padding. He noticed that the materials typically used for these critical protective devices don’t perform well at higher speeds and often aren’t reusable.
The research team increased the material’s ability to withstand impact by incorporating high-energy-absorbing liquid crystal elastomers, which have previously been used primarily in actuators and robotics.
In tests of the material’s ability to withstand impact it was found to hold up against strikes from objects weighting about two to seven kilograms to 15 pounds travelling at speeds of up to about 35 km/h. The tests were limited to 35 km/h due to the limits of the testing machines, but the team is confident that the padding could safely absorb even greater impacts.
Kang and his team are currently exploring a collaboration with a helmet company. The research has been published in Advanced Materials.