An ambitious Air Force Academy cadet and her professor teamed up to create a goop that can be used to enhance existing body armor and help keep troops safer on the battlefield.
According to americanmilitarynews.com, as part of a chemistry class project in 2014, Cadet 1st Class Hayley Weird had to use epoxy, Kevlar, and carbon fiber to use to create a material that could stop a bullet.
She wanted to make something that functions like the non-Newtonian fluid Oobleck, which is made of cornstarch and water and thickens when it encounters force.
One of Weir’s advisors suggested swapping the epoxy for a thickening fluid, the story says.
“Up to that point, it was the coolest thing I’d done as a cadet,” Weir said. She is set to graduate this spring.
“But soon thereafter she had to switch majors from materials chemistry to military strategies. That presented a challenge to continuing the research, but she eventually teamed up with Ryan Burke, a military and strategic studies professor at the Academy.”
“Burke, who served as a Marine, was familiar with the cumbersome nature of current body armor, and he was enthused about Weir’s project. ‘When she came to me with this idea, I said ‘let’s do it,’ he said. ‘Even if it is a miserable failure, I was interested in trying.’”
In the lab, Weir and Burke would create their mixture with a KitchenAid mixer and plastic utensils, the story says, before it would be placed into vacuum-sealed bags and flattened to a thickness of 1/4 inch and then inserted into a Kevlar sleeve.
Initial tests were disheartening, but eventually, they created a mixture that stopped a 9mm bullet.
“This year, they traveled to the Air Force Civil Engineering Center to present their work and up the ante on their tests.”
“Weir’s material was able to stop a 9 mm round, a .40 Smith & Wesson round, and eventually a .44 Magnum round — all fired at close range.”
“During the tests, 9 mm rounds went through most the material’s layers before getting caught in the fiber backing. The .40 caliber round was stopped by the third layer, while the .44 Magnum round was stopped by the first layer.”
This shows that the non-Newtonian goo is reacting to greater force, as it is supposed to, catching the hardest hitting round.
“This is the highest caliber we have stopped so far,” Weir says in the story.
“The greater the force, the greater the hardening or thickening effect,” Burke said.
And because of this achievement, her system could be classified as Type III body armor.
The story says the formula will now be tweaked for maximum efficacy, but that the model Weird and Burke created uses 75 percent less fabric than standard military-style body armor, which would cut down on both bulk and weight.
It also has the potential for use as a protective lining on vehicles and aircraft, as well as tents to protect occupants from shrapnel or gunfire, the story says.
“I don’t think it has actually set in how big this can get,” Weir said in early May. “I think this is going to take off and it’s going to be really awesome.”
Army Times recently reported that the U.S. Army and USMC are working to lighten the body armor personnel are currently using, which on average weighs 27 pounds. The average weight carried by Marines, including body armor, totals 117 pounds, while soldiers haul 119 pounds.