A revolutionary new shock-absorbing material can stop supersonic impacts

Impact Blast

Researchers have created a new synthetic biology material capable of stopping supersonic impacts. It could have many practical applications, such as next-generation bulletproof armor.

Scientists have created and patented a revolutionary new shock-absorbing material that could revolutionize both the defense and planetary science industries. The breakthrough was achieved by a team from the University of Kent, led by Professors Ben Goult and Jen Hiscock.

Called TSAM (Talin Shock Absorbing Materials), this new family of protein-based materials represents the first known example of a SynBio (or synthetic biology) material capable of absorbing the impacts of supersonic projectiles. It opens the door to the development of next-generation bulletproof armor and projectile capture materials to enable the study of hypervelocity impacts in space and the upper atmosphere (astrophysics).

Professor Ben Goult explained: “Our work on the protein talin, which is the natural shock absorber of cells, has shown that this molecule contains a series of binary switch domains which open under tension and fold back again a once the voltage has dropped. This force response gives Talin its molecular shock absorbing properties, protecting our cells from the effects of large force changes. When we polymerized talin in a TSAM, we discovered that the shock absorbing properties of talin monomers gave the material incredible properties.

The team then demonstrated the real-world application of TSAMs, subjecting this hydrogel material to supersonic impacts of 1.5 km/s (3,400 mph) – a speed faster than particles in space impacting both natural and man-made objects (typically >1 km/s) and gun muzzle velocities – which are typically between 0.4 and 1.0 km/s (900-2,200 mph). Additionally, the team found that TSAMs can not only absorb the impact of basalt particles (~60 µM in diameter) and larger aluminum shards, but also preserve these projectiles after impact.

Current body armor tends to consist of a ceramic face backed by a fiber reinforced composite, which is heavy and bulky. Additionally, while this armor is effective at blocking bullets and shrapnel, it does not block kinetic energy which can lead to blunt force trauma behind the armor. Additionally, this form of armor is often damaged beyond repair after impact, due to compromised structural integrity, preventing further use. This makes the incorporation of TSAM into new armor designs a potential alternative to these traditional technologies, providing lighter and more durable armor that also protects the wearer against a wider range of injuries, including those caused by shocks.

Additionally, the ability of TSAMs to capture and preserve projectiles after impact makes it applicable in the aerospace sector, where there is a need for energy-dissipating materials to enable efficient collection of space debris, dust spatial and micrometeoroids for later use. scientific studies. Additionally, these captured projectiles facilitate the design of aerospace equipment, improving astronaut safety and the longevity of expensive aerospace equipment. Here, TSAMs could provide an alternative to industry standard aerogels – which are susceptible to melting due to the temperature rise resulting from projectile impact.

Professor Jen Hiscock said: ‘This project grew out of an interdisciplinary collaboration between basic biology, chemistry and materials science that resulted in the production of this amazing new class of materials. We are very excited about the potential translational possibilities of TSAMs to solve real-world problems. This is something we are actively researching with the support of new collaborators in the defense and aerospace sectors.

Reference: “Next Generation Protein-Based Materials Capture and Preserve Projectiles from Supersonic Impacts” by Jack A. Doolan, Luke S. Alesbrook, Karen B. Baker, Ian R. Brown, George T. Williams, Jennifer R. Hiscock and Benjamin T Goult, November 29, 2022, bioRxiv.
DOI: 10.1101/2022.11.29.518433

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