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  SoldierMod Volume 15 - May 2015
Volume 15 Articles

Country flagFish Inspire Next Gen Body Armour

Future Tech

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The challenge in creating body armour is always weight and flexibility vs ballistic protection. Over the years, the development of aramid fibres such as Kevlar, have been the most practical answer to that challenge. As reported in recent issues of Soldier Mod, R&D into super-aramid fibres, such as AuTx continues.

Now, researchers with MIT are turning to Mother Nature for inspiration for Next Gen body armour. With support of the U.S. Army Research Office, the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies is working on a body armour based on the strength and flexibility of fish scales.

Scale armour is not a new idea. Examples of scale armour can be found stretching back to Ancient Rome. To improve upon the concept of the flexible protection that can be provided by interlocking scales, the researchers came up with a single metric to determine the armour’s value, which they coined “protecto-flexibility.”

According to the researchers, protecto-flexibility is “a new metric which captures the contrasting combination of protection and flexibility, taken as the ratio between the normalized indentation and normalized bending stiffness.”

Using this single metric as a guide, the researchers were able to greatly enhance the armour’s strength, while only slightly decreasing its flexibility.

The researchers used 3D printers to create the armour to be tested. Basically, they created a material with two layers, one soft and flexible, and the other hard and impervious.

In most materials, and particularly protective gear, flexibility and strength are two opposing forces. The one notable exception to this are fish. Fish, in order to swim through a liquid environment, are incredibly flexible, and yet they are also protected by hard scales. Their secret is the combination of the scales and the soft flexible tissue that lies beneath them. It was that combination that the researchers sought to emulate.

To date, this strong yet flexible armour has only been tested successfully against knives and other non-ballistic blows. The next phase of testing will be to test it’s mettle against bullets and shrapnel, but researchers are confident that their fish-scale inspired armour will past those tests swimmingly!

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