Nanoscale Block Copolymers Designed To Be Impervious To Deformation

November 26 2012

A Rice University lab, in collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and its Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, have created nanoscale target materials, microscale ammunition and even the method for firing them. The goal of the researchers was to find novel ways to make materials more impervious to deformation or failure for stronger and lighter body armor, jet engine turbine blades for aircraft, and for cladding to protect spacecraft and satellites from micrometeorites and space junk. The researchers were inspired by their observations in macroscopic ballistic tests in which a complex multiblock copolymer polyurethane material showed the ability to not only stop a 9 mm bullet but also seal the entryway behind it. Ned Thomas, dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice and a materials scientist, holds a polyurethane disk with the bullets it stopped and sealed inside. Thomas is leading an investigation into the characteristics of such materials at the nanoscale In the process, they gathered a surprising amount of information about how materials called block copolymers dissipate the strain of sudden impact. “The polymer has actually arrested the bullet and sealed it,” Thomas said, holding a hockey puck-sized piece of clear plastic with three bullets firmly embedded. “There’s no macroscopic damage; the material hasn’t failed; it hasn’t cracked. You can still see through it. This would be a great ballistic windshield material. We want to find out why this polyurethane works the way it does. Theoretically, no one understood why this particular kind of material – which has nanoscale features of glassy and rubbery domains - would be so good at dissipating energy.” An electron microscope image of a silica sphere fired edge-on into a block copolymer shows how the glassy and rubbery layers contorted as they dissipated the strain from the projectile. Directly in front of the sphere, heat from the shot melted the copolymer into a homogeneous liquid. An electron microscope image of a silica sphere fired edge-on into a block copolymer shows how the glassy and rubbery layers contorted as they dissipated the strain from the projectile. Directly in front of the sphere, heat from the shot melted the copolymer into a homogeneous liquid.

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