Scaling up armor systems

January 30, 2015 by Joe O'connell, Northeastern University
Ranajay Ghosh, an associate research scientist in the College of Engineering, is researching ways to develop new armor systems using models of animal scales. Credit: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Dermal modification is a significant part of evolution, says Ranajay Ghosh, an associate research scientist in the College of Engineering. Almost every organism has something on its skin that provides important survival properties such as protection from predators, camouflaging, thermal regulation, and sensorial functions. In many animals, this evolution has led to the formation of scales.

This is why Ghosh and his colleagues in Northeastern University's High Performance Materials and Structures Laboratory are looking to the properties of animal scales to help them develop the next generation of systems. The lab studies the mechanical behavior and performance of materials and structures, at various scales from nanowires and living cells to ships and buildings.

Led by associate professor Ashkan Vaziri, the lab's findings were recently published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, being featured on the cover of one of December's issues. Hamid Ebrahimi, PhD'17, who is pursuing her doctorate in , was also a co-author.

"The next generation of armor systems are light, perform a lot of functions, and at the same time do not compromise on protection," Ghosh said, "and nature provides very important information in terms of armor development."

The research, which is supported by the National Science Foundation and Qatar Foundation, involved examining different strategies for general protective systems that are lightweight and multi-use across industries.

The researchers chose to mimic the properties of because fish, like a person wearing armor, need a fine balance between mobility and protection, Ghosh explained. Using 3-D printing, the researchers created models of fish scales that were embedded in a soft substrate. Adding these scales caused the soft substrate to stiffen up, a response the researchers found could be achieved rather quickly because of the scales' size and placement within the substrate.

Ranajay Ghosh holds a 3-​​D printed model of a fish scale he used in his armor system research. Credit: Matthew Modoono
"This is very different from what people have been working on before, which is focusing on the very nature of the scales themselves, how they will behave, and whether they break easily or not," he added. "Here, our focus is simply the effect of simple scales and their mutual contact and interaction with the soft substrate."

Ghosh said the research also identifies that even with pedestrian mechanical properties, nature has developed very complex systems.

In this project, the researchers' work focused on examining the impact that adding scales would have on the substrate's elasticity. Having found this makes the substrate stiffer and less penetrable, the next step is determining how this work can help create tougher armor. The lab plans to continue with more advanced testing on fish scales' protective properties, with the ultimate goal of combining the properties of several different animals' scales into one armor system. The mobility of snake scales and the optics of butterfly wings are among these intriguing the lab hopes to investigate, he said.

"We can synthesize what nature could not do because we have more flexibility with the materials we use," Ghosh said.

Explore further: Of fish scales and adaptable armor – the things that X-rays can tell you

Related Stories

Researchers look to butterflies to improve flight

October 24, 2013

A better understanding of the aerodynamic properties of butterfly wings may lead to improved human-made flight, according to research at The University of Alabama recently funded by the National Science Foundation.

Better, stronger, lighter armor

May 22, 2012

What makes a piece of armor effective? Sure, it needs to be strong, and it should be lightweight. But what is it about a material's composition that gives it such properties? And can we develop materials that provide even ...

Recommended for you

Physicists reveal why matter dominates universe

March 21, 2019

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University have confirmed that matter and antimatter decay differently for elementary particles containing charmed quarks.

ATLAS experiment observes light scattering off light

March 20, 2019

Light-by-light scattering is a very rare phenomenon in which two photons interact, producing another pair of photons. This process was among the earliest predictions of quantum electrodynamics (QED), the quantum theory of ...

How heavy elements come about in the universe

March 19, 2019

Heavy elements are produced during stellar explosion or on the surfaces of neutron stars through the capture of hydrogen nuclei (protons). This occurs at extremely high temperatures, but at relatively low energies. An international ...

Trembling aspen leaves could save future Mars rovers

March 18, 2019

Researchers at the University of Warwick have been inspired by the unique movement of trembling aspen leaves, to devise an energy harvesting mechanism that could power weather sensors in hostile environments and could even ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.