Shock absorbing material could lead to stronger but safer applications

Researchers in the United States have developed a shock-absorbing material that protects like metal but is lighter, stronger and reusable.

According to its creators at Johns Hopkins University, the new foam-like material could be a game-changer for helmets, body armor, and automotive and aerospace parts.

“We are thrilled with our findings on the new material’s extreme energy-absorbing ability,” said lead author Sung Hoon Kang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

“The material offers more protection against a wide range of impacts, but being lighter could reduce fuel consumption and the environmental impact of vehicles while being more comfortable for wearers of protective gear.”

Johns Hopkins graduate student Beijun Shen places a liquid crystal elastomer structure in a drop test machine.

Image credit: Johns Hopkins University

Kang wanted to create a material that was even more energy absorbing than current car bumpers and helmet padding. He noticed that the typical materials used for these critical protective devices don’t perform well at higher speeds and are often not reusable.

The research team could add strength while reducing weight with high energy absorption liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), materials primarily in actuators and robotics (see below).

Johns Hopkins researchers have studied the energy absorption capacity of liquid crystal elastomers.

Johns Hopkins researchers have studied the energy absorption capacity of liquid crystal elastomers.

Image credit: Johns Hopkins University

In experiments to test the material’s ability to withstand impact, it withstood impacts from objects weighing around four to 15 pounds, coming at speeds up to around 22 mph.

They limited testing to 22mph due to testing machine limitations, but the team is confident the padding could safely absorb even greater impacts.

Kang and his team are currently exploring a collaboration with a helmet company to design, manufacture and test next-generation helmets for athletes and the military.

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