A composite polymer material that is fluid at rest but hardens on impact, like a cornstarch solution, is being explored by scientists at the Singapore Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) for use in body armor and sports padding. The material dissipates the impact of falls, injuries from blunt trauma, exploding shrapnel and other assaults more effectively than protective foams currently used in sports gear. “The idea for the new material came to us when we were demonstrating a popular cornstarch science experiment during our regular science outreach to the public,” says Dr. Davy Cheong, senior research engineer with IMRE, who co-invented the material.
The basis for the liquid-to-solid reaction is shear thickening. When moved gently, the molecular chains holding the material together can slide past one another; sudden movement causes the molecular chains to tangle, turning the material rock hard. The patented method developed by the Singapore research team allows the material to remain flexible and help spread out high-impact force more rapidly than other products. Potential applications include sports protective equipment, body armor and aerospace.