The UB-led research team, fascinated by mollusk-grown gems, used inspiration from nature to create a lightweight plastic that is 14 times stronger and eight times lighter than steel and "ideal for absorbing the impact of bullets and other projectiles," UB Now said.
The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Applied Polymer Materials, published by the American Chemical Society (ACS).
"The material is stiff, strong and tough," says lead author Shenqiang Ren, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and a member of UB's RENEW Institute. "It could be applicable to vests, helmets and other types of body armor, as well as protective armor for ships, helicopters, and other vehicles."
The new lightweight plastic is an advanced version of ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE).
Researchers said while developing the UHMWPE-based material; they examined "mother of pearl, which mollusks create by arranging a form of calcium carbonate into a structure that resembles interlocking bricks. Like, mother of pearl, the material has an extremely tough outer shell with a more flexible inner backing that's capable of deforming and absorbing projectiles."