New material could lead to stronger, lighter and safer helmets and vehicles

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University created a shock absorbing material that protects like metal, but is lighter, stronger and reusable. 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 absorption capability,” 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.”

Kang, who is also a member of the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute, 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 was able to add strength while reducing weight with high energy absorption liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), which were primarily used in actuators and robotics.

In experiments to test the material’s ability to withstand impact, it withstood impacts from objects weighing approximately four to 15 pounds, coming at speeds up to approximately 22 miles per hour. Testing was limited to 22 miles per hour due to test machine limitations, but the team is confident the padding could safely absorb even greater impacts.

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

– This press release was provided by Johns Hopkins University

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