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Bulletproof materials are often rigid and bulky – think how stuffy bulletproof vests must be, but a new material inspired by the fluidity and toughness of fish scales could change all that. Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a material with a flexible liner topped with one covered in armor-like scales suitable for military or space applications. The bio-inspired Flexible Scale Armor is 3D printed and can be customized for body type, add areas with additional protection or better range of motion.
The development of the fish-scale inspired Flexible Armor was led by Assistant Professor Stephen Rudykh, head of the Technion’s Mechanics of Soft Materials Laboratory. “Fish are flexible creatures, but are protected by hard scales. Their ‘secret’ is the combination of the scales and the soft tissue beneath them, and that is what I tried to mimic here,” explains Rudykh. “The materials that I am designing are also made of two layers – one soft (the ‘body’) and the other (‘scales’) constitutes the ‘armor’. These two components provide the combined property of protecto-flexibility that we want.”
Rudykh and his team are 3D printing this material, which could be used in military armor or even space suits. Their work has allowed them to increase the penetration resistance by a factor of 40. With military uniforms there is the potential to custom design the joint areas to add more flexibility and beef up other areas, like the chest, to improve strength. For space suits, the material would make them impervious to micro-meteorites and radiation, which offers better protection for astronauts while on spacewalks. Rudykh’s work was recently published in the journal of Soft Matter.