Scores of U.S. veterans can celebrate Veteran’s Day thanks to high-tech ceramics that provide protection against bullets or other projectiles.
Soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan face danger every day, but thanks to high-tech ceramics developed since the late 1960s, they have protection against numerous ballistic threats. In best-case scenarios, these ceramics can actually shatter a bullet upon impact, leaving nothing more than possibly a bruise on the warrior.
“As threats change, armor has to change,” says James W. McCauley, a materials scientist at the Army Research Laboratory who has studied and helped develop many of the armor ceramics in use today.
Unlike steel, which has long been used as body armor for the military, ceramics have the advantage of being lightweight. They also have a very high degree of hardness—in fact, ceramics are some of the hardest materials known—as well as other desirable properties for ballistic protection.
Most of the ceramic powders used in the U.S.’s body armor are made in Europe or China, says Richard Haber, director of the Ceramic & Composite Materials Center at Rutgers University. However, there is still one manufacturer, Washington Mills Ceramics, in the U.S. Firms that make armor ceramics for the Department of Defense must produce lightweight plates that can withstand more than one ballistic impact, and they must also minimize cost and weight.
How to reduce weight is a primary issue, McCauley says, because it has a direct impact on the mobility of the soldier as well as on the stress placed on the warrior’s body. Cost is a factor in the military’s standards, given that every solider fighting in today’s wars.
Visit “What’s That Stuff” to read more about the chemistry of body armor.
Excerpted with permission, Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2004 American Chemical Society