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FSU Researchers Mould New Composite Material to Protect Troops

  • Friday, 10th December 2004
  • Reading time: about 3 minutes

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Under a partnership with Armor Holdings, Inc. of Jacksonville, FSU researchers are developing and testing first-of-its-kind body armour for soldiers’ arms and legs that could reduce fatalities and loss of limbs when they are wounded.

“”Most of the folks who die in military conflicts don’t die from getting shot,”” said James Thagard, a visiting assistant professor with the engineering school’s Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies (FAC2T). “”Seventy-five to 80 percent die from getting hit by shrapnel and excessive bleeding.””

Troops already receive aramid based protective helmets, bullet proof vests and shoulder armour to help them survive combat, but their arms and legs are exposed. The new armour would be among the first products manufactured by the defence industry to protect soldiers’ extremities.

“”The reality is you can’t protect everything,”” Thagard said. “”There are always areas of a soldier’s body that will be exposed, but this is a good place to start. Right now there are no requirements for extremity protection.””

FSU received $100,000 from Armour Holdings in November to cover two months of research. More grants from the company are expected in 2005 to continue the work. As part of the partnership, FSU researchers are also experimenting with polymers toughened with carbon nanotubes to improve the strength of fabrics used to make bullet proof armour.

In developing the new body armour, Thagard bound multiple layers of fabric and plastic materials together to create the experimental armour. Ballistics tests show the combination of materials exceeds the new requirements for bullet proof vests while providing the necessary aesthetic and mechanical properties so the armour can be worn comfortably. Thagard has begun making prototype pieces of the armour, which will be given to Armour Holdings to manufacture on a broad scale for field-testing. Armour Holdings already manufactures vests and other plates that soldiers wear to protect their torso.

“”There is more that can be done to protect beyond the core torso area,”” said Bob Mecredy, president of the Armour Holdings Aerospace and Defence Group. “”We are thrilled to be partnering with Florida State and believe our combined efforts will produce results that have a direct, even lifesaving, benefit for soldiers in the field.””

Thagard’s new armour will likely be field tested at military training facilities in the coming weeks and months to see if it can be comfortably worn and isn’t too bulky. “”It’s really promising that we’ve been able to come up with this at FSU,”” Thagard said holding a panel of the new armour. “”We know that this recipe is good and just hope it can be utilized quickly to help save more soldiers.””

The partnership with Armour Holdings represents the latest area of high-tech composite materials research at the Florida Advanced Center for Composite Technologies. In addition to the new body armour, Thagard and other researchers have developed lightweight, custom leg supports for various uses.

“”We are only scratching the surface in realizing the potential of composites,”” said Professor Ben Wang, the centre’s director. “”I am really excited about this project. Anytime you can develop a technology that will save lives and make life better for the men and women serving our nation, you can’t help but be excited.””

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