Research Could Lead to Resilient Coatings

MONDAY, MAY 23, 2016

A laboratory advance involving two-dimensional materials could be a step toward new coatings technology that will fortify materials that are susceptible to projectile damage and potentially make buildings safer during an earthquake.

Scientists at the University of Washington published a paper earlier this month describing how they were able to observe and analyze the interparticle vibrations of two-dimensional granular crystals. The biggest takeaway may be that the materials are “dynamically responsive”—that is, they respond to different kinds of contact differently.

“You can take a pencil and push it through a sandbag, but at the same time it can stop a bullet,” said senior author Nicholas Boechler, a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “So in some ways what we’re trying to do is build better sandbags in an informed way.”

Boechler’s co-authors on the research, published in Physical Review Letters, are Maroun Abi Ghanem, Sam Wallen, Amey Khanolkar, all from the University of Washington, and MIT scientist Alexei Maznev.

Absorbing Impact

Given the particles’ dynamic responsiveness, they could be integrated into coatings that absorb vibrations, or absorb impacts, the paper’s authors say.

“For instance, if you could design a coating that has unique impact absorbing capabilities, it could have applications ranging from spacecraft micro-meteorite shielding to improved bulletproof vests,” Boechler said.

It’s not the first research on granular dynamics, but according to the researchers, it’s the first time these properties have been observed on such a small scale. Working with two-dimensional particles that act this way makes the development of novel coatings and other materials more feasible.

“The larger systems are really nice for modeling, but can be difficult to integrate into many potential products,” Boechler said.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army and the University of Washington’s Royalty Research Center.


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