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Four explosion-resistant materials that may save your future self

By SOPHIA GAUTHIER | May 9, 2013

Amidst our country’s gun control debates, Korean peninsula tensions and recent acts of mass violence in the news, we begin to wonder how we can ever feel safe again. While intense debate arises when discussing the pros and cons of increased weaponry in the hands of common citizens, some scientists are spending their time developing hard-to-argue-with solutions for the ever-increasing instability of the modern world.

Thanks to some up and coming technology, the classic arms race is taking a protective spin on personal defense. Below are five new and developing materials that have the potential to change the future and save lives.

BOMB-PROOF CONCRETE

While the concept may sound mythical at best, it may be surprising to learn that such a material has already been used to construct several government buildings among other things in Australia.

Engineers at the University of Liverpool in the UK have been exploring several options to strengthen the common construction go-to and they seem to have found the perfect mixture. This new concrete contains a much lower water-cement ratio than in traditional concrete and only utilizes silica sand particles as an aggregate which is much more fine than traditional crushed stone or gravel. The concrete is then reinforced with embedded steel fibers that possess extremely high compression ratings.  Scientists claim that the tensile strength of the new material may be up to ten times stronger than that of traditional concrete.

Engineers have been testing the material with controlled explosions and so far have gathered positive findings. Because of its strength, the new concrete is less likely to disintegrate and turn into deadly shrapnel upon a close range blast impact.

The higher curing temperatures and limited shaping abilities of the new concrete are a small price to pay for its potentially life-saving qualities.

EXPLOSION-PROOF GLASS

Of course, you have heard of Plexiglas (which isn’t actually a glass at all, it’s a thermoplastic!) and it’s shatter resistant abilities. You are probably also already aware of the greenish Harry Potter novel-thick blast-proof glass panels that protect important world figures like President Obama and the Pope. But what about thin, lightweight blast-resistant glass? Such things may be headed for our very own windows within the next couple of years.

Collaboration between scientists at the University of Missouri and the University of Sydney, Australia as funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate are working towards developing such a material. They have high hopes that the new glass will be able to withstand the rattles of an earthquake, the winds of a hurricane, and the blast force of an explosion.

Such panels are actually made up of a weave of tiny glass fibers, thinner than the width of your average human hair, soaked in liquid plastic and bound by an adhesive. Special engineering has rendered the panes transparent and the whole thing is only about a quarter of an inch thick. Preliminary tests with small panels of the new material have proven highly successful. In one trial, the entire front side of the pane remained intact after a close-range detonation while the other side merely cracked but resisted shatter. Fingers are crossed for success on a larger scale.

BLAST-PROOF FABRIC

Imagine if there was a miracle fabric —a fabric that could withstand multiple blasts and still maintain its original integrity. Thanks to recent efforts, there’s no need to imagine such a material any longer.

Made by Patrick Hood, creator of the fabric and managing director of Auxetix Ltd., Zetix fabric defies physics by utilizing the principle of helical-auxetics, where objects increase in size when experiencing an increase in tension. This principle is rather counter-intuitive.

Imagine a bungee cord. When you put tension on the cord, the strands stretch and the cord becomes thinner. However, with Zetix fabric, an additional fiber is wound around the original cord. When taut, the secondary fiber stretches tight, causing the cord to bulge outwards.

The incredible application of this material becomes evident when it is woven into a fabric. As a sheet, each thread undergoes the principle explained above when under stress. The bulging of each thread creates thousands of pores that allow airflow but are small enough to block flying shrapnel. Once the discharge passes, the fabric returns to its original form, ready to protect against a second explosion.

Not only does the fabric have vast potential for applications, it is also extremely cost-efficient. It is made up of the same expensive state-of-the-art materials used in today’s blast-resilient fabrics, but in much smaller quantities and in junction with cheaper materials.

Auxetix Ltd. has entered into discussion with other companies for mass production, however it is not yet known how soon the material will be out in the commonplace market.

BOMB-PROOF WALLPAPER

This is probably the greatest mind-warp of them all. Why just have blast-proof concrete walls when you can reinforce with wallpaper as well? Bomb-proof wallpaper is the brainchild of Berry Plastics and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The X-Flex Adhesive sheets are literally of the peel and paste variety that can be rolled over any surface in a matter of minutes. The X-Flex Adhesive sheets can prevent a wall from buckling in and collapsing following a blast impact, and that means safer structures and saved lives.


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