The soldiers of the future could be equipped with stronger, lighter body armor and ride in safer armored vehicles with tougher run-flat tires, thanks to cross-linked aerogels, a material invented by UMR chemist Nicholas Leventis. This lightweight combination of highly porous glass and plastic is four to five times tougher per pound than materials currently used in military armor.
This spring Leventis, a professor of chemistry at UMR, was honored by Nanotech Briefs magazine as one of 15 innovators included in the annual Nano 50 Awards. The list includes researchers from Stanford, Princeton and Harvard Medical School. The awards recognize the top 50 technologies, products and innovators that have significantly influenced – or are expected to influence – the state of the art in nanotechnology.
Aerogels aren’t new. In fact they’ve been around for decades. But, aerogels were very brittle until Leventis developed his method of cross-linking, or bonding together chemically, strings of nano-sized glass particles with common polymers like polyurethane, polystyrene and epoxy.
Like earlier aerogels, the material Leventis developed was extremely lightweight, but the new chemical approach created aerogels that were 100 times more resistant to breakage and totally resistant to moisture.
Leventis believes other possible applications range from tiny but sturdy drug-delivery vehicles to acoustic insulation, filtration membranes, optical sensors, fuel cell membranes and lighter, more efficient frames for aircraft and spacecraft.
Leventis’ aerogel research is funded through a three-year, $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.