Tech Tools: Easier on the Head–and the Environment

Spring 2022

Johns Hopkins engineers have created a shock-absorbing material that is light and reusable—and potentially a game changer in the manufacturing of helmets, body armor, and automobile and aerospace parts. 

“The new foamlike material not only offers enhanced protection from a wide range of impacts but, because it is lighter than metal, could also reduce fuel consumption and the environmental impact of vehicles,” says Sung Hoon Kang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and member of both the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute and the Institute for NanoBioTechnology. “Also, we believe it will make protective gear more comfortable.” 

The team knew that the materials used to make current car bumpers and helmet padding don’t perform well at high-speed impacts and often aren’t reusable. They increased the materials’ ability to withstand impact through the synergistic use of a foamlike geometry with high energy-absorbing liquid crystal elastomers, often found in actuators for soft robotics. 

Kang and his team are now exploring a collaboration with a helmet company to design, fabricate, and test next-generation helmets for athletes and the military. The results appeared recently in Advanced Materials. 

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