Innovation That Matters

The material is built up out of layers of foam-like polymers | Photo source Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

A new foam-like material stronger and lighter than metal


Researchers have developed a shock-absorbing material that could make helmets and car bumpers lighter and safer

Spotted: A team of researchers from the Extreme Materials Institute at Johns Hopkins University has developed a shock-absorbing material which is stronger than metal but much lighter. The researchers who developed the foam-like material feel it could be used to create light, strong, and reusable protective equipment.

Current materials used in applications such as automobile bumpers and helmets tend not to perform well at high speeds, and are largely single-use. The new materials use what are known as liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs). These are long chains of molecules (polymers) held in a liquid crystalline phase. This makes them both elastic and stable. LCEs have been used to make actuators and artificial muscles for robotics. However, the Johns Hopkins researchers investigated the LCEs ability to absorb energy.

The team used multiple layers of LCEs, sandwiched between stiffer supporting materials. The material was designed to buckle at different rates on impact, dissipating the energy. In tests, the materials held up well after being struck by objects weighing between 4 and 15 pounds (1.8 and 6.8 kilogrammes) and at speeds of up to 22 miles per hour (35.4 kilometres per hour). And the team is confident that the padding could safely absorb even greater impacts.

“We are excited about our findings on the extreme energy absorption capability of the new material,” said senior author Sung Hoon Kang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “The material offers more protection from a wide range of impacts, but being lighter could reduce fuel consumption and the environmental impact of vehicles while being more comfortable for protective gear wearers.”

Materials science is delivering new innovations all the time. Some are geared towards creating stronger materials, while others focus on flexibility, sustainability, weight reduction, or other factors. Some of these innovative new materials covered recently by Springwise include low-carbon aluminium and skis made from algae

Written By: Lisa Magloff



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