January 09, 2003
US Army Funding Nanotech For Infantry Protection

The US Army is funding the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) to develop all the supersoldier gadgets that Hollywood shows in movies.

Jan. 6, 2002 – In the not-too-distant future, American soldiers may wear Kevlar vests that will protect against biological agents as well as stop bullets. With the flick of a switch, the sleeves of their uniform may stiffen into anti-shrapnel armor or a medical splint. They may carry night-vision contacts lenses, while a patch on their shoulder or helmet signals their position to their commander.

The article doesn't name the type of material that comes incredibly stiff when a magnetic field is applied but they are probably referring to magneto-rheological fluids.

Interesting excerpts from the MIT ISN web site FAQ answers:

The ISN’s role is one of basic and applied research. The primary goal is to create an expansive array of innovations in nanoscience and nanotechnology in a variety of survivability-related areas that will be harvested by the industrial partners for future Army application. The research will integrate a wide range of functions, including multithreat protection against ballistics, sensory attack, chemical and biological agents; climate control (cooling, heating, and insulating), possible chameleon-like garments; biomedical monitoring; and load management. The objective is to enable a revolutionary advance in soldier survivability through the development of novel materials for integration into the future warrior systems.

The focus of the ISN is soldier survivability. The intent is to improve the ability of the soldier to perform their mission in the battlespace where somebody is actively trying to locate and kill them. The first of the research areas, listed above, looks at both ballistic and directed energy protection of the soldier. Mechanically Active Materials simultaneously looks at mechanical actuators for armour or exoskeletal support (either for load carrying systems or wound compresses and splints), and pressure/motion sensors to monitor the soldier. Signature and Detection Management looks at active camouflage and sensor systems to detect enemy rangefinding or target designation probes. The Soldier Medical Technology thrust focuses attention of soldier triage and automatic "first aid" for a wounded or disabled soldier. The final two areas are crosscutting areas intended to provide enabling technologies for the other thrust areas.

From the results of current DoD sponsored nanoscience research a number of potential applications have been developed. One is a semi-permeable membrane with molecular scale pores that open to allow passage of water but remain closed to other molecules. This would have application to water filtration and purification systems or for chemical/biological protective clothing. Molecular scale rotors on a 3d grid array so that they can pivot and block off high intensity laser light – a molecular scale Venetian blind – to protect soldier eyes from laser blinding or to act as high-speed switches in opto-electronic circuits. Nanoparticles of gold in solution, linked together by strands of DNA that are specifically encoded to respond to the DNA of biological agents, that produce dramatic optical colour changes to allow reliable field detection of biological warfare agents at very low sample sizes, or rapid, reliable screening for such diseases as flu, strep etc. Nanoporous antenna ground planes that reflect all electromagnetic energy with very low absorption, to increase the net transmission power of cell-phones and small radios. Nanoporous electrodes for batteries to increase power density and efficiency – this list grows longer every day.

Super soldiers must be able to leap tall walls with a single bound.

Thomas even spoke of soldiers being able to leap over 20-foot walls by "building up energy storage in shoes." Thomas went on to note that MIT researchers have recently created "world-record actuator materials" that are "better than human muscles."

One of the most intriguing ideas mentioned is to make optical bar codes visible only to one's own troops in order to reduce friendly fire casualties.

On the battlefield or on patrol, soldiers risk being separated from their own troops. They need a way to distinguish their side from the enemy. So scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (in partnership with the U.S. Army) set out to create a fabric that carried an optical bar code, visible only to someone wearing special goggles.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 January 09 12:04 AM  Nanotech Advances

Patrick said at January 13, 2003 11:10 PM:

Magnetorheological fluids are only one alternative to having something soft that will become rigid when hit by shrapnel.
Electrorheological fluids do the same thing when subject to an electric field.
And there are many materials that just have viscosities that increase with strain rate. An example being toffee and other sugar based materials. If you bend a toffee it will bend, but hit it and it is rigid and will crack. Toffee won't stop bullets, but the same behaviour is common in many materials and offers clothing that is flexible at the speeds a human operates at, but will be solid at the speed of a bullet.

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