Now that the researchers have created a composite exhibiting resistance to deformation (stiffness) and resistance to load (strength), they are working to improve the composite's ability to dissipate energy, thus improving its toughness, says U.M. mechanical engineering professor Ellen Arruda, another of the study's co-authors. "We want the material to have the ability to absorb the energy of a projectile," she says.
The impetus for the research was a $1.2-million grant awarded last year by the U.S. Defense Department, which was interested in developing more effective armor for the Air Force's unmanned aerial craft as well as for vehicles and body armor for other branches of the armed forces.
The cost of this composite is difficult to estimate, Kotov says. The components are inexpensive and the process does not require large energy expenditures, but it is by no means a fast process. Cost will depend largely on how efficiently processes are developed to create nanoinfused composites and whether these composites need to be produced in high volumes. For highly specialized technologies such as MEMS and microfluidics devices, cost would not be as great an issue as it would in creating large sheets of armor.
The development of these composites is also expected to take less of a toll on the environment, because this superstrong polymer does not require the high temperatures or great energy expenditures required to make steel.