Liquids: The Latest in Body Armor Technology

You know you’ve played too much of your video games when you think flak jackets do a great job of protecting the wearer from all types of weaponry. In real life, however, things happen, and sometimes even if you’re wearing protective armor you can get injured badly from shots from high-calibre weapons, not to mention that most armors based on ballistic fabrics wouldn’t do well in deflecting or absorbing the impact of large projectiles or even sharp objects like knives. The solution: shear liquids.

From BusinessWeek:

Armor Holdings’ product is … a mix of polyethylene glycol, a polymer found in laxatives and other consumer products, and nanobits of silica, or purified sand. Together they produce a “sheer-thickening liquid” that stiffens instantly into a shield when hit hard by an object. It reverts to its liquid state just as fast when the energy from the projectile dissipates.

An article on Science Central even has a video clip of a demonstration:

The treatment of the fabric prevents the fibers from spreading apart or “windowing,” which keeps sharp objects from entering. That means that not only would materials treated with shear thickening fluids be better against conventional threats such as bullets, but would also resist puncture from shrapnel. The materials would also remain light â?? only 20 percent heavier after treatment – and flexible, which means they could be used for much-needed protection of the limbs.

The liquid-based armor is also expected to be lighter and cheaper to manufacture (and purchase) than those offered by existing technologies.

Newer concepts, like the use of nanotubes to produce tough and light fabrics, could do better in terms of comfort, but these are currently too expensive to produce (at about $15,000 per ounce). But who knows, maybe in the future we could buy bulletproof T-shirts off the rack–and maybe by that time projectile-shooting guns would’ve been obsolete.

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