Published September 17, 2012
How to protect the men and women who protect us?
American soldiers are killed or injured every year from an ever-changing array of battlefield threats, which has our nation's military busy looking for new ways to keep them safe. Now the U.S. Army is tapping the expertise of the nation's top academic researchers to help develop better armor for our troops.
The Army has given $90 million to Johns Hopkins University, which is leading a team of researchers at Rutgers University, the University of Delaware and the California Institute of Technology, along with private companies and the military, to revolutionize the way protective armor is designed. The goal: to reduce the weight of body armor by 30 percent, while making it 50 percent more efficient.
After all, the threats our troops face are constantly evolving, said Professor Rich Haber at Rutgers University School of Engineering.
"[They] range from improved simple ballistic threats, such as bullets that will improve, to more complex threats such as improvised explosive devices," Haber told Fox News.
Haber and his team at Rutgers work with ceramic materials that are as hard as diamond -- under extreme heat and pressure -- that will later be tested at Johns Hopkins University.
"We're not just going into a cabinet, pulling out materials and testing them one at a time, saying 'do they work,'" Haber said, describing the process. "We're going into a cabinet, taking that material out and saying 'how do we change it to make it work.'"
K.T. Ramesh, director of the Johns Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute and project leader, told Fox News that "if you look at the individuals who are involved in these conflicts, you have to be able to find a mechanism for protecting them. You can say they have pretty good protection right now, but, from my view point what Captain America needs is a new shield and we're going to build it."
Using specially designed instruments and machines in the lab at the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute, Dr. Ramesh and his team can measure the impact of a bullet or other projectile. Their findings help them to improve the material used in body armor.
"We have instruments, cameras, measurement devices that allow us to look at things very, very quickly," Ramesh said. "Look at it this way, in the time that it takes you to blink your eye, I can take a million pictures so I can see things that you can't see -- and that allows me to know exactly what's going on during that event."
"If you can see it, then you can understand it, and only if you can understand it, can you control it," he said.
Another goal of the project is to reduce the amount of time it takes to get the new and improved armor into the field. So, how long will it take for "Captain America" to get a new shield? Ramesh says they are working on speeding up the process but points out that multiple tests are needed before new armor is deployed.
"If you're going to give someone something to wear and say, this is going to protect you, you'd better know that it's going to do that," he said