Multifunctional nanofiber materials for mechanical and thermal protection

Protective equipment provides safety for users from hazardous conditions; however, the equipment and the materials that it's made from are usually designed to protect against a single threat. When an operator needs protection from different hazard types, they are forced to wear multiple layers for protection. To overcome this limitation, researchers from Kit Parker’s lab have created a multifunctional protective material to protect against thermal and ballistic hazards simultaneously. To achieve this multifunctionality, para-aramid nanofiber sheets were fabricated with empty space between the fibers. The fibers provide mechanical integrity against impact, while the voids create thermal insulation. This mechanically robust aerogel was demonstrated to have similar ballistic protection properties and 20x the insulation capability as compared to commercial para-aramid fibers.

With a unique combination of protective properties, this material has several potential applications within the personal protective, clothing, and structural material markets. For the personnel protective market, the material can improve the thermal resistance of body armor and cut-resistant gloves. Additionally, the fiber sheets may have added energy absorption properties relevant for ballistic protection and bike helmets. The nanofiber sheets could also be used as an insulating layer in a winter jacket to provide protection against fragmentation debris. For the structural material markets, it can serve as a liner for structures where extreme temperatures and flying debris are a threat, such as army tents or space stations.

This work was published in Matter and featured in the Harvard Gazette.

Intellectual Property Status: Patent(s) Pending