Innovating New Ways to Protect Soldiers with Materials Science and Knowledge of Sea Creatures

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materials science
Armor has protected soldiers for millennia; can materials science lead to new innovations?
Image source: Flickr user Son of Groucho

To be a soldier in 2050, what will be required? According to researchers at the Army’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit program (TALOS), the wars of the future will be fought in exoskeletons while load-carrying robots accompany human soldiers on dangerous patrols. 1 But something even less familiar to us than exoskeletons and robots might one day inspire one of the most significant innovations in body armor: the sea creatures known as chitons.

Eyes as Hard as Glistening Diamonds

Chitons, which are related to snails, octopuses and clams, have oval bodies made of eight plates that overlap like the shields used by soldiers in Roman times.2 These plates are made of a hard ceramic material, but contain hundreds of eyes that, amazingly, are able to form images and detect light. 3 The reason why chitons can see with rock-eyes seems to lie with the material of its lenses, a mineral called aragonite.

Recent research done at Harvard and MIT unraveled the 3-dimensional architecture of the chiton’s eye and “found that aragonite crystals in the lens are larger than in the shell and organized into more regular alignments that allow light to be gathered and bundled.”4 This type of material is capable of “perform[ing] multiple and often structurally opposite functions,” a capability not typically seen nature. It’s clear that there is much to be learned (and ultimately co-opted) from the chiton’s body armor. For example, innovations in aragonite-based technology could lead to armor that is tough but also provides visual information to its wearer, increasing the safety of soldiers using “eyes behind their backs.”

Using Materials Science to Transform Glistening Diamonds to Smart Body Armor

In today’s fiercely competitive environment, product innovation is essential for specialty companies. Understanding the existing materials science literature concerning chiton lenses or aragonite, and how others have potentially conceptualized the jump from animal armor to human armor, can provide an important context for moving forward. Understanding potential safety concerns related to transformation can accelerate the development of products. Digital software can make the abovementioned processes occur at a faster, more efficient pace for any materials science organization:

Lab efficiency: To maximize lab efficiency in a research organization, work should be conducted from a single digital environment where materials science literature reviews and past experiments can be easily searched within the database, while items ordered and delivered can be tracked. As experiments occur, test results can be easily uploaded to this digital space to better integrate various stages of product innovation. Specifically considering how to use aragonite to develop better armor, some research has already sought to uncover the science behind aragonite’s toughness as researchers consider how to fortify this natural product with other specialty chemicals.5 Still, having past literature in a single location with pending experiments enables researchers to better integrate these multiple sources of knowledge to promote the development of new products, or armor prototypes in this case, to prevent redundancy.

Lab Safety: In developing new products, careful consideration of safety issues is essential for reducing compliance risks and avoiding error. By digitally tracking samples and procedures, while integrating this information with existing equipment and systems, research organizations can reduce their reliance on antiquated paper systems by instead utilizing a digital system that provides an easily searchable platform to locate needed data. By integrating existing machines and instruments, research companies can also avoid the errors made in transcribing data from instruments into systems. This kind of system can be essential for accelerating product delivery in a company that often uses specialty instruments, products and techniques, but must adhere to a variety of regulatory guidelines.

BIOVIA Experiment supports the abovementioned processes and much more. By relying on this digital solutions platform, research organizations can avoid error and reduce their compliance risk, while still increasing the likelihood that they conduct ground-breaking experiments in the most efficient, cost-effective manner. In this context, work in the lab becomes both easier and safer thus accelerating the development of new armor or any other materials science innovation. Please contact us today to learn more about BIOVIA Experiment and other products.

  1. “What the Fighter of the Future Will Look Like,” July 13, 2015, http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2015/07/what-fighter-future-will-look/117619/
  2. “This Animal Has a Suit of Armor With Hundreds of Build-In Eyes,” November 20, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/11/this-animal-has-armor-with-hundreds-of-eyes-and-lenses-made-of-rock/416523/
  3. “Multifunctionality of chiton biomineralized armor with an integrated visual system, November 2015, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/350/6263/952
  4. “Creating a new vision of multifunctional materials,” November 19, 2015, http://wyss.harvard.edu/viewpressrelease/228/
  5. “Nature’s bottom-up nanofabrication of armor,” October 2, 2006, http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=870.php

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