Blastproof used glass against explosives at MIT Design Competition

August 21, 2014

By Joyce P. Brayboy, ARL Public Affairs Office

"When a shock wave hits the armor panel, it crushes the glass spheres and dissipates the energy from the blast," Cody Jacobucci, who finished his first year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this summer, told the nine judges.

It was not unlikely that his team would be one of 12 competing in this year's Soldier Design Competition, hosted by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN); Jacobucci came to MIT from a small farming community in Woodstown, N.J., where, year after year, young people join the Army. He just happened to be one of few in the town's history who instead wound up at MIT.

The path this young, former South Jersey Shamrock lacrosse player took led him to a year that included many milestones, including winning the W.L. Gore Innovation Prize at the 11th Annual Soldier Design Competition on May 5, 2014.

The ISN is a team of MIT, Army, and industry partners working together to discover and field technologies that dramatically advance Soldier protection and survivability. MIT and U.S. Military Academy at West Point students compete annually.

Jacobucci had listened intently to his potential ISN research topic—using panels impregnated with glass spheres as a way to help reduce the impact of the blast waves caused by explosives—when he visited Dr. Steve Kooi's office at ISN Headquarters.

"So, do you want to do the leg work?" Jacobucci remembers Kooi asking.

He knew that if background research were promising, the project would be ideal for the Soldier Design Competition. The competition offers exposure for technology relevant to Soldiers, Jacobucci said.

Mentors come from across the Army and industry, as well as from within MIT and USMA, to help hone students' ideas in ways that make them applicable to current Army technology requirements.

The judges look for innovative technology, but as importantly, they reward projects aligned with Army needs, leading the transition to the Army of 2025, said John McConville, a technology transfer officer assigned to the ISN by the Army Research Office, a part of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL).

Jacobucci's team, Blastproof, consisted of him and his partner, Brian Wanek, also an MIT freshman. They collaborated with ARL, Natick Soldier Systems Center, and Aberdeen Proving Ground researchers, where they conducted blast tests with ARL's Weapons and Materials Research Directorate.

"The competition process provides the teams with many mentors," McConville said. "The Army advisors help ensure the technology meets Army needs."

ISN's objectives for the competition, according to competition coordinator Kurt Keville, are outreach to undergraduate students, who make up a large part of the MIT community but a small portion of ISN; helping develop solutions to real-world problems facing the Soldier; and keeping with MIT's rich history of design competitions. "This is cutting-edge engineering built around brand new concepts," Keville said. "The MIT students get a great foundation for applying technology in the first year of their academic programs. By their junior year, when many start looking at the Soldier Design Competition, they have a good appetite to do something with technology."

The students watch movies like Restrepo (2010) and Lone Survivor (2013), and devote themselves to coming up with a better HESCO barrier or an increased range of radios on the battlefield, Keville said.

Jacobucci, no different from more-senior competitors, was enchanted by the idea of developing novel technologies. As a freshman, he saw the potential to create armor for Soldiers and take it from inception to application.

"There are less than a dozen advanced placement classes at my high school, and here I was at a research institution with students from the top academic programs in the world. I felt the need to prove I deserve to be here," Jacobucci said. "I used any time I had after class and in between lacrosse games to test ways to optimize the material."

With only three or four months to finalize the results, a full course load, and in the height of the lacrosse season, Jacobucci knew if he wanted to take the undergraduate research to the competition level, he would need help, which is when his partner Wanek got involved.

"He was one of the first people I met at MIT, you know, one of those genuine, honest guys you can't help but like. There was no one I would have rather had by my side during a presentation to some of the most important military leaders around," Jacobucci said. "He's a team player."

Teams used oral presentations and a poster session to describe their solutions for Soldiers. They briefed their projects to Command Sgt. Maj. Lebert Beharie of the Research, Development and Engineering Command a few months ahead of the competition finals.

"What I learned in the process of working with the ISN on the Blastproof team is it doesn't really matter where you come from, but the work ethic that makes you successful," Jacobucci said. "There is pretty much nothing I have been naturally good at, but what I do well is come early, stay late, and work hard."

By the time things were wrapping up, he said he knew they had a chance to win. The special guests telling them about the difference they could see Blastproof making in the lives of Soldiers encouraged Jacobucci and Wanek.

"Knowing we made an impact and that the research would go forward was winning enough for me," Jacobucci said. "But hearing, 'third place goes to Blastproof' was a nice bonus."

Soldier Design Competition winners:

1.) THOR Tourniquet (Traumatic Hemorrhage One-hand Response) won the $7,000 Lockheed Martin first-place prize for the development of a rapid one-hand tourniquet.

2.) ResQ Warmer won the $5,000 Raytheon second-place prize for the development of a rapid warming system for IV fluids.

3.) Blastproof won the $3,000 third-place W.L. Gore Innovation prize for the development of a blast-protective Polyurea composite interspersed with glass spheres.

4.) The Heavy Lifters from West Point who won a $3,000 ISN Director's prize for developing an airbag system to allow Soldiers to lift debris and right overturned vehicles.

5.) Amp My FOB also won a $3,000 ISN Director's prize. The six-person team, which included two Army officers studying at MIT, developed a smart meter that analyzes how much electricity a base uses.

For more information about the Soldier Design Competition, email with SDC in the subject line or call 301-394-1178.


Last Update / Reviewed: August 21, 2014