At first glance, there is nothing in common between pearls, LEGOs and body armor. Nevertheless, researchers from the US Army's Research Lab succeeded in the seemingly impossible - to unite them into a single whole.
In the process of research, scientists have found that the outer coating of pearls gives the armor plates exceptional rigidity. For this, mother-of-pearl was used, made from calcium carbonate of sea molluscs. Calcium carbonate itself is not particularly strong, but when given a structure reminiscent of LEGO bricks, its strength increases dramatically.
As a result, the researchers managed to obtain a very tough outer cover with a flexible inner base that can deform and absorb bullets. This biomimetic process can be used to create new models of body armor.
The new technology uses ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene or UHMWPE in combination with silicon oxide nanoparticles, which gives the material additional strength. The resulting material is "lightweight plastic, 14 times stronger and eight times lighter than steel, ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles." By comparison, Kevlar is only five times stronger than steel.
Another advantage of the new material is its high thermal conductivity, which allows faster heat dissipation from kinetic energy and absorption of the energy of bullets and other damaging elements.
The new material is still at the research stage, but despite this, the technology looks very promising and will probably soon be embodied in a new generation of body armor.