Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

New Material Could Mean Lightweight Armor, Protective Coatings

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Army-funded research identified a new material that may lead to lightweight armor, protective coatings, blast shields and other impact-resistant structures.

Researchers at the U.S. Army’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCaltech and ETH Zürich found that materials formed from precisely patterned nanoscale trusses are tougher than Kevlar and steel.

In experiments, the ultralight structures, called nanoarchitectured materials, absorbed the impact of microscopic projectiles accelerated to supersonic speeds.

“Increasing protection while simultaneously decreasing the weight that soldiers carry is an overreaching theme in our research,” said Dr. James Burgess, ISN program manager for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory. “This project is a really good example of such efforts where projectile energy absorption is nanostructured mechanism based.”

The research, published in Nature Materials, found that the material prevented the projectiles from tearing through it.

“The same amount of mass of our material would be much more efficient at stopping a projectile than the same amount of mass of Kevlar,” said Dr. Carlos Portela, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, the study’s lead author.

The researchers calculate that the new material absorbs impacts more efficiently than steel, Kevlar, aluminum and other impact-resistant materials of comparable weight.

“The knowledge from this work…could provide design principles for ultra-lightweight impact resistant materials [for use in] efficient armor materials, protective coatings, and blast-resistant shields desirable in defense and space applications,” said co-author Dr. Julia R. Greer, a professor of materials science, mechanics, and medical engineering at Caltech, whose lab fabricated the material.

Nanoarchitected materials are known to feature impressive properties like exceptional lightness and resilience; however, until now, the potential for additional applications has largely been untested.

“We only know about its response in a slow-deformation regime, whereas a lot of their practical use is hypothesized to be in real-world applications where nothing deforms slowly,” Portela said.

To help fill this vital knowledge gap, the research team set out to study nanoarchitected materials undergoing fast deformation, such as that caused by high-velocity impacts. At Caltech, researchers first fabricated a repeating pattern known as a tetrakaidecahedron—a lattice configuration composed of microscopic struts—using two-photo lithography, a technique that uses a high-powered laser to solidify microscopic structures in photosensitive resin.

To test the tetrakaidecahedron’s resilience to extreme, rapid deformation, the team performed experiments at MIT using the ISN-developed laser-induced particle impact array. This device aims an ultrafast laser through a glass slide.. As the laser passes through the slide, it generates a plasma, an immediate expansion of gas that launches the particles toward the target.

By adjusting the laser’s power to control the speed of the microparticle projectiles, the researchers tested microparticle velocities within the supersonic range.

“Some experiments achieved twice the speed of sound, easily,” Portela said.

Using a high-speed camera, the researchers captured videos of the microparticles impacting the nanoarchitected material. They had fabricated material of two different densities. A comparison of the two materials’ impact response, found the denser one to be more resilient, and microparticles tended to embed in the material rather than tear through it.

To get a closer look, the researchers carefully sliced through the embedded microparticles and nanarchitectured target. They found that the struts below the embedded particle had crumpled and compacted in response to the impact, but the surrounding struts remained intact.

“We show the material can absorb a lot of energy because of this shock compaction mechanism of struts at the nanoscale, versus something that’s fully dense and monolithic, not nanoarchitected,” Portela said.

Going forward, Portela plans to explore various nanostructured configurations other than carbon, and ways to scale up the production of these nanostructures, all with the goal of designing tougher, lighter materials.

“Nanoarchitected materials truly are promising as impact-mitigating materials,” Portela said. “There’s a lot we don’t know about them yet, and we’re starting this path to answering these questions and opening the door to their widespread applications.”

The U.S. Army established the MIT Institute for Nanotechnologies in 2002 as an interdisciplinary research center to dramatically improve the protection, survivability and mission capabilities of the Soldier and of Soldier-supporting platforms and systems.

In addition to Army funding through the institute, the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship supported the research.

By U.S. Army DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs

US Army Test Facility Recreates Space on Earth

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — Just exactly how cold is it in space?

The unofficial answer: really cold. The official answer: typically -460 degrees Fahrenheit. So how exactly would you operate a space-based sensor, which needs to detect and track very faint infrared signatures when operating in the cold vacuum of space?

That is where the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center’s space-based sensor test facility comes into play. Its two independent space chambers, which operate under the center’s Software, Simulation, Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate, utilize cryogenic refrigeration systems to achieve the required low temperature and pressure environment. The sensor under test is installed within the space chamber, allowing it to observe a multi-spectral target generation source, with all other elements within the chamber conditioned to space-like temperatures and pressures.

“This is the closest you get to a flight test without actually being in space,” said Space Chamber team member David Riesland.

But how exactly would a sensor’s projection system survive and operate within the chamber’s lower temperature/pressure environment? A high-fidelity scene generation system provides radiometrically precise dynamic scenes to the projectors, depicting the threat engagement from the perspective of the sensor field of view. The system presents a TV-like image to the sensor under test, which changes based upon the sensor viewpoint within the simulated battlespace. This allows evaluation of the optical, photon collection, and image processing functions of the sensor under test.

Just because the facility is only two years old doesn’t mean the team gets to rest on its laurels. “We are constantly trying to keep up with the sensors,” said Space Chamber’s Daniel Saylor.

These types of chambers are very rare, which is why it is highly unusual that another space chamber exists down the road at Air Force facilities on Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, Tennessee. But there are significant differences.

AvMC’s chambers were specifically designed for Missile Defense Agency testing, including features to extend the operational duration of test events with reduced operational costs. Their state-of-the-art technology allows AvMC’s chambers to heat and cool faster than previous capability increments. They are more limber and can operate for months at a time to allow extended duration testing for large-scale scenario studies.

Just how long of an extended duration?

“We haven’t found the limit yet,” Riesland said.

By Katie Davis Skelley, DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center Public Affairs

PROOF Research Awarded Contract for Future Weapon Systems Development

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

PROOF Research®’s latest contract award builds on their small caliber barrel technology already in service with U.S. Military Forces.

Columbia Falls, Mont. (July 2021) – PROOF Research®, has been awarded a $12.7 million contract for the development and delivery of prototype advanced composite medium caliber barrels and components for next generation weapon systems. PROOF Research is the leading manufacturer of advanced high-temperature composite aerospace/defense materials and components, cut-rifled steel and carbon-fiber composite precision rifle barrels, and custom rifle systems that deliver extreme accuracy and enhanced performance with up to a 50% weight reduction.

The program builds on PROOF Research’s successful small caliber barrel technology already in service with U.S. military forces, and will enable medium caliber weapons with increased performance that provide overmatch capability on tomorrow’s battlefield. “This project demonstrates the scalability and performance advantages of PROOF’s technology in any weapon system,” stated PROOF Research CEO, Larry Murphy. John Clements, PROOF Research VP of Business Development and Military Programs, underscores the importance of the program to defense, “It is a progression of our commercial and military small caliber products that will generate a tactical advantage in larger weapons. We are extremely excited about this opportunity to improve the tools available to our Warfighters.”

“PROOF’s composite materials technology is unique in that it opens up the weapon design space to enable performance advantages that cannot be achieved with traditional materials and techniques. We design and build medium caliber weapon system barrels and components with characteristics previously not attainable,” said PROOF Research Advanced Composites Division General Manager and project Principal Investigator, David Curliss, PhD.

This effort is sponsored by the U.S. Government under Other Transaction number W15QKN-09-9-1001/W15QKN-12-9-0001/W15QKN-14-9-1001 between the National Armaments Consortium and the Government. The views and conclusions contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies or endorsements, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Government.

Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition Supports the Future of Engineering

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

ROCHESTER, Mich. — Student engineers got a feel for real-world robotics challenges at the 28th annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) here at Oakland University June 4-7.

The IGVC, hosted by the U.S. Army Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC), is the oldest and largest autonomous vehicle competition in the nation and provides students with their first professional projects as engineers.

The student competitors represent every Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-related major, and there are also opportunities for business majors to become involved.

IGVC event sponsors frequently recruit students into full-time positions upon finishing their degrees, said Bernard Theisen, GVSC’s Division Chief for Ground Vehicle Robotics, and a long-time supporter of the competition.

“If these students can use this capability to build these unmanned systems, they are the perfect recruits,” said Theisen. “Some of the teams here are taking advantage of some of our core products such as our Robotic Technology Kernel (RTK) software and Warfighter Machine Interface (WMI), used to control their vehicles.”

The competition offers students a glimpse of what it means to be an engineer for the Army. “I think IGVC has been a good catalyst for robotic development,” said Theisen.

Many GVSC engineers were recruited at previous competitions they participated in as students.

“I would say probably 30 percent of everybody in GVSC Ground Vehicle Robotics competed in the competition at one time or another,” said Theisen.

Unmanned systems allow the Soldier to operate technology from a distance, providing better protection, said Theisen. “Our primary customer is the Soldier, and robotics and autonomy help take the Soldier out of harm’s way.”

Engineers for the Army provide Soldiers with the most cutting-edge products that give them the most security on the frontlines.

“My primary goal as an engineer for the Army is to save Soldiers’ lives,” said Theisen. “I want to give them the best technology and the best capability.”

Engineers for the Army use their versatility and determination to work around the constantly changing needs of the Warfighter and it isn’t always easy, said Theisen.

“There’s a lot of ups and downs” said Theisen. “We are focused on the technology and it changes often.”

Andrew Kosinski, a mechanical engineer for GVSC Ground Vehicle Robotics, said IGVC gives students a chance to use flexibility and quick thinking to solve complications that occur before and during the competition.

“Having to be flexible is the biggest challenge that comes with being an engineer for the Army,” said Kosinski. “You have to work with a lot of different situations and people and need to be able to think on your feet.”

IGVC also provides an environment full of positivity and diversity. There are countless opportunities for networking.

“I love seeing all the teams show off from all around the world,” Kosinski said. “I love being able to talk to all sorts of unique people.”

What’s more, while IGVC gives many students a chance to learn more about Robotics Technologies and develop a passion for it— the competition is a venue for student engineers to pursue professional careers in engineering.

“The competition is the best type of job interview because you get to see people in action,” said Kosinski. “That’s why Army and various sponsors support it each year.”

More information on the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition can be found at

By Kennedy Thomas

Uniforms with Programmable Fiber Could Transmit Data and More

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Army-funded research has resulted in the development of a programmable fiber that could transmit data from Soldier uniforms.

Researchers at the Army’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the first fiber with digital capabilities. The fiber can sense, store, analyze and infer activity when sewn into a piece of clothing.

“This groundbreaking research, with other research underway at the ISN, could revolutionize Soldier uniforms,” said Dr. James Burgess, ISN program manager for the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, now known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory. “We could outfit our Soldiers with uniforms that could generate power, give them vital information about their physiology and environmental exposures, provide their location to their team and alert someone if they incur an injury. All of this could be done with very little increase in weight carried by the Soldier.”

Ultimately uniforms with this technology could power sensors, store and analyze the collected data and transmit data to outside sources.

The research, published in Nature Communications, describes how the team created the new fiber. The team placed hundreds of square silicon microscale digital chips into a preform that created a polymer fiber. By precisely controlling the polymer flow, the researchers created a fiber with continuous electrical connection between the chips over a length of tens of meters.

Until now, electronic fibers have been analog, carrying a continuous electrical signal, rather than digital, where discrete bits of information can be encoded and processed in 0s and 1s.

The fiber itself is thin and flexible and can pass through a needle, be sewn into fabrics, and washed at least 10 times without breaking down.

“When you put the fiber into a shirt, you can’t feel it at all,” said Gabriel Loke, MIT doctoral student. “You wouldn’t know it was there.”

Yoel Fink, professor in the departments of materials science and engineering and electrical engineering and computer science at MIT said that digital fibers expand the possibilities for fabrics to uncover the context of hidden patterns in the human body for physical performance monitoring, medical inference, and early disease detection.

A digital fiber can also store a lot of information in memory. The researchers were able to write, store, and read information on the fiber, including a 767-kilobit full-color short movie file and a 0.48-megabyte music file. The files can be stored for two months without power.

The fiber also takes a few steps forward into artificial intelligence by including, within the fiber memory, a neural network of 1,650 connections. After sewing it around the armpit of a shirt, the researchers used the fiber to collect 270 minutes of surface body temperature data from a person wearing the shirt, and analyzed how these data corresponded to different physical activities. Trained on these data, the fiber was able to determine with 96 percent accuracy the activity in which the person wearing the shirt was participating.

Adding an artificial intelligence component to the fiber further increases its possibilities, the researchers say. Fabrics with digital components can collect a lot of information across the body over time, and these lush data are perfect for machine learning algorithms, Loke said.

With this analytic power, the fibers someday could sense and alert Soldiers in real-time to health changes like a respiratory decline or an irregular heartbeat, or deliver muscle activation or heart rate data during training exercises. It could also provide data on any toxins Soldiers are exposed to, the length of time they are exposed, and monitor any effects those toxins have on their physiology.

The fiber is controlled by a small external device so the next step will be to design a new chip as a microcontroller that can be connected within the fiber itself.

“When we can do that, we can call it a fiber computer,” Loke said.

The U.S. Army established the MIT Institute for Nanotechnologies in 2002 as an interdisciplinary research center to dramatically improve protection, survivability and mission capabilities of the Soldier and of Soldier-supporting platforms and systems.

In addition to the Army, the, National Science Foundation, the MIT Sea Grant and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency supported this research.

By US Army DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs