Viscoelasticity and Liquid Armor

One proposed method for improving bulletproof armor is adding a layer of non-Newtonian fluid that can help absorb and dissipate the kinetic energy of impact. Thus far researchers have focused on shear-thickening fluids – like cornstarch-based oobleck – filled with particles that jam together if anything tries to deform them quickly. But is it really the shear-thickening properties that matter for high-speed impacts?

To test this, researchers studied projectile impact on three fluids: water (left), a cornstarch mixture (not shown), and a shear-thinning polymer mixture (right). Water is Newtonian, and it slows down the projectile but doesn’t stop it. Both the shear-thickening cornstarch and the shear-thinning polymer mixture do stop the projectile. And by modeling the impacts, researchers concluded that the key to that energy dissipation isn’t their shear-related behaviors: it’s the fact that both fluids are viscoelastic.

That means that these fluids show both viscous (fluid-like) and elastic (solid-like) responses depending on the timescale of an impact. The high speed of the impact triggered a strong viscous response in both fluids, bringing the projectile to a halt. And if, as the researchers suggest, it’s a fluid’s viscoelasticity that matters most, that widens the field of candidates when it comes to developing a fluid-based armor. (Image and research credit: T. de Goede et al.)

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