Air Force scientists study artificial silk for body armor, parachutes

Implementing the power of nature to a functional fiber.


Scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory along with Purdue University are developing a functional fiber that can be woven into sizeable, flexible fabrics using existing textile manufacturing methods. They are planning to apply the cooling and heating properties of natural silk to the fiber.

Silk displays latent radiative cooling, implying that it emanates more heat than it ingests when in direct sunlight. On hot summer days, silk drops 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit when contrasted with reflective materials.

The cooling fabric is of huge potential advantage to the warfighter wearing body shield.

Bulletproof vests and parachutes are two articles in line to be built with artificial spider silk. Current vests are troublesome because of the overwhelming weight and non-breathing material they are manufactured with. Parachutes built of the new material are stronger and ready to convey bigger payloads.

Dr. Augustine Urbas, a researcher in the Functional Materials Division of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate said, “Making the warfighter more comfortable by enhancing body armor is just one of the many improvements my team hopes to make by studying natural silk. Understanding natural silk will enable us to engineer multifunctional fibers with exponential possibilities. The ultra-strong fibers outperform the mechanical characteristics of many synthetic materials as well as steel. These materials could be the future in comfort and strength in body armor and parachute material for the warfighter.”

According to scientists, Fibroin can be processed into a lightweight material for fabricating artificially engineered synthetic and optical materials.

Understanding light transport and heat transfer will lead to various innovations. According to the AFRL researchers, learning from silk to assist with developing material synthesis and design processes in the future is a great opportunity.

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