Could pearls help save a soldier’s life? Scientists are looking at pearls in an innovative U.S. Army research project to bolster body armor.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo have simulated mother of pearl, or the outer coating of pearls, to create a lightweight plastic described as 14 times stronger and 8 times lighter than steel. In a statement, the Army says that the material is “ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles.” The research, which is funded by the Army Research Office (ARO), is published in the journal ACS Applied Polymer Materials.
"The material is stiff, strong, and tough," said Shenqiang Ren, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Buffalo University and the paper's lead author, in the statement. "It could be applicable to vests, helmets and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters, and other vehicles."
Ren is also a member of the University at Buffalo's RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water) Institute. Most of the material used is a “souped-up version of polyethylene,” according to the Army. This ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMWPE, is used for the likes of artificial hips and guitar picks.