MIT’s new ultrafine, ultrastrong fibers could make future body armor tougher

mit nano fibers ultra strong nanofibers 01
Courtesy of the researchers, MIT
Right now, materials like Kevlar are the gold standard when it comes to tough textiles used in applications such as body armor. But materials scientists are busy searching for its possible successor. Previously we’ve covered some innovative ultra-strong materials such a foil-thin graphene shield which can repel diamonds and artificial spider silk able to absorb the majority of an impact.

Now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed their own next-generation tough material: polyethylene nano-fibers, which possess astonishing levels of strength and toughness, despite being just billionths of a meter thick.

“Stiff, strong, and tough ultrafine polethylene fibers that rival the best high performance polymer fibers, but with diameters less than one micrometer, [have been fabricated by us] for the first time by a new process called ‘gel-electrospinning,’” MIT professor of chemical engineering Gregory Rutledge told Digital Trends. “Currently available high performance polyethylene fibers like Spectra and Dyneema are already among the stiffest and strongest fibers, on a per weight basis. However, these new fibers are one to two orders of magnitude smaller in diameter and, pound for pound, can absorb even more energy without breaking.”

The nano-fibers were created by modifying an already existing technique called gel spinning. This involves extruding a polymer gel through a die and then mechanically drawing it in a second, heated stage. In the case of the new “gel-electrospinning” process, this extrusion and drawing is carried out in a single stage using electrical forces, rather than a mechanical approach.

mit nano fibers ultra strong nanofibers 02
Courtesy of the researchers, MIT
Courtesy of the researchers, MIT

At present, it’s still too early to demonstrate real world applications, although Rutledge said that these may include lightweight, flexible, wear-resistant textiles and clothing, as well as soft body armor for military or civilian uses, or possible components for lightweight composites. In all of these applications, the benefit is from the inherent low density of the new fibers and their exceptional toughness, alongside their high stiffness and strength. “The performance of composites are enhanced by the high surface area of the fibers, which can improve bonding to the matrix, and the small distances between the fibers, which further promotes toughness,” Rutledge continued.

The first-of-their-kind fibers have been produced only in Rutledge’s lab at MIT, currently in very small quantities. “We have many challenges to solve before they can be scaled up for commercial production, but we are working on it,” he said. “The gel-electrospinning process is an important step in this direction.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the Journal of Materials Science.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Mobile

Here are 15 of our favorite iPad Mini cases, covers to protect your tiny tablet

We take a look at the best iPad Mini cases and covers on the market. We have cases in a range of styles and prices, with all sorts of distinguishing features. If you have an Apple iPad Mini 4 or iPad Mini 5 then get a case now.
Gaming

How to get the most out of agent builds and specializations in The Division 2

The Division 2 has an intricate loot system to let you fine tune your agent to fit your play style. In our builds and specializations guide, we'll walk you through all of the stats you should pay attention to when tinkering with gear.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (March 2019)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Computing

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 
Business

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.
Emerging Tech

Tombot is the hyper-realistic dog robot that puts Spot to shame

Forget Boston Dynamics’ Spot! When it comes to robot dogs, the folks behind a new Kickstarter campaign have plans to stake their claim as makers of man’s (and woman’s) newest best friend.
Emerging Tech

Researchers gave alligators headphones and ketamine, and all for a good cause

Researchers in Germany and the United States recently gave ketamine and earphones to alligators to monitor how they process sounds. Here's what it reveals about alligator evolution.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers plan to beam Earth’s greatest hits into deep space, and you can help

A new project from the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) will give the public the chance to submit compositions to be beamed into space, with the aim of connecting people around the world through music.