Revolutionary Design

The story behind the broadcast show "Armed with Science's" segment developing materials one atom at a time

March 13, 2014

By T'Jae Gibson, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Collaborative Research Alliance in Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments(MEDE) that focuses on lighter weight protection materials in high strain rate environments
  • Collaborative Research Alliance in Mutliscale Modeling of Electronic Materials (MSME) that focuses on electronic materials that enable significant advances in the areas of power and energy, sensor systems and devices
  • In-House Initiative for Multiscale Modeling of Materials that focuses on crosscutting fundamental material and computational sciences that enable the implementation of "Sharable Physics Based Modeling" for Materials by Design
  • High Performance Computing Software and Applications Institute for Multi-scale Reactive Modeling and Simulation of Insensitive Munitions (Energetic Materials), currently being integrated into the Enterprise.

Army researchers are forging new paths in material development to bring to Soldiers equipment and supplies tougher than steel, from materials that don't yet exist.

As part of a 10-year program involving partners from universities and industry, Army Research Laboratory scientists are investigating novel approaches that will result in the development of new classes of materials to protect Soldiers, their warfighting and communication equipment and the combat vehicles they rely on to get them in and out of warzones.

Building upon expertise in coupling materials together to arrive at the best Soldier solutions like ballistic vests and helmets, the ARL-led collaborative research team is forging a new path to develop new materials. They're taking unprecedented approaches to examine materials. They will design the atomic level structures down to the crystal and molecular level to create transformational materials that will be used in future uniforms, electronic devices, armored vehicles and anything else Soldiers touch, or touch Soldiers.

When researchers achieve this understanding, Soldiers could then be outfitted with 30 percent lighter weight, more robust but less cumbersome protection equipment; weapon systems that have five to 10 times their current energy output; 30 percent more battlefield power; and electronics with 30 percent longer battlefield lifetimes. These improvements will free up Soldiers to focus on devastating the enemy's willpower and ability to act.

This program requires Army scientists to model and examine materials in extreme environments. "To make things harder, we want to see them (the materials) while they are exploding, or being blasted, or being hit by armor piercing projectiles, or being used as a battery. Not an easy task but an exciting one," said Dr. John Beatty, who manages ARL's Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments Collaborative Research Alliance. Under his watch, this alliance will build the capability to design revolutionary materials for protecting Soldiers. He said "no longer will we take materials 'off the shelf' to put into armor systems. Instead materials will become an integral part of the design process itself."

To complement ARL's expertise in protection materials, modeling, high strain rate characterization and computational tool development, ARL named Johns Hopkins University as the lead research organization of its external collaborative research team that's looking at materials in extreme environments, like the environments found when personnel and vehicle armor systems protect the Soldier from projectiles or explosions. Major partner institutions include the California Institute of Technology, the University of Delaware and Rutgers University.

Recent significant advances in experimental and computational capabilities and technology are helping them "address this challenge with an exceptional likelihood of success" said Dr. Peter Plostins, ARL's former director of Enterprise for Multiscale Research in Materials. "The key is to be able to model large problems at and across material scales as well as experimentally interrogate those scales to discover new phenomena and material behavior and validate the modeling effectively," said Plostins, who retired from ARL in December.

Last spring, ARL's supercomputing capability topped 1.1 peta flops, meaning it can crunch a quadrillion floating point operations per second. By fiscal year 2016, it will have more than four times that capability. Real-time nuclear magnetic resonance imaging during surgery or even astrophysical simulation can be performed with this kind of capacity, for example.

"New and sophisticated experimental methods have been brought on line by the Department of Energy such as the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory which will enable real time dynamic interrogation of material phenomena at the nano second time scale at micron and below length scales. Advances like these have opened the door to realizing a materials modeling and interrogation capability that is unprecedented and is the key to realizing a true ability to design materials," said Plostins.

He said under the Enterprise for Multiscale Research of Materials effort, researchers will demonstrate a comprehensive "materials-by-design" capability for protection, electronic and energetic materials that start with multidisciplinary and multiscale modeling. "I need to model the material with the correct physics to optimize it." He said researchers will then design and optimize the material at each scale and across scales to reach the desired material performance. Those performance parameters will then be described and defined as part of a characterization and properties analysis step. Finally, all of these models must be validated at each scale, through detailed and complex experiments.

"In the end, the Army needs to make what it desires to have for the Soldier," Plostins said.

This article is part of a two-part series written by ARL Public Affairs. It's based on the article "Designing Materials" that appeared in the March/April 2014 edition of the RDECOM Army Technology Magazine.


Last Update / Reviewed: March 13, 2014