Oklahoma State University - Tulsa
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OSU-Tulsa News > 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Protecting the troops

OSU-Tulsa Associate Professor Jay Hanan is leading research to create a stronger, lighter body armor for combat.

Military troops and law enforcement professionals could soon be wearing stronger body armor designed by a professor at Oklahoma State University –Tulsa.

Jay Hanan, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, has been working to design a composite plate that would be added to current body armor designs to increase protection for soldiers in the field.

“People think that when they’re wearing body armor, it’s protecting them from injury,” said Hanan. “In reality, the armor is stopping the bullet, but the impact can still damage the body. That could include broken ribs or organ damage that will take them out of commission during a fight even though the bullet is captured.”

The key is to reduce the back face signature, or the amount of material from the armor that goes into the body after being hit by a bullet. The depth of the signature can range from a few millimeters to two inches, depending on the strength of the bullet.

“Dr. Hanan’s research will not only save lives of soldiers in combat, but it will also create new jobs that will impact our economy right here in Oklahoma,” said Howard Barnett, president of OSU-Tulsa and OSU Center for Health Sciences. “This research is another way that OSU is fulfilling our land-grant mission and making a brighter future for all of us.”

Body armor is categorized in levels one to four, with level one offering the least protection.

“The National Institutes of Justice has a standard that requires that the back face signature can only go a certain number of millimeters into the body before its unacceptable for a given level,” said Hanan, who is working to strengthen armor classified at level three and four. “The plates are designed to add extra strength to protect the most vital organs during an attack.”

Hanan, a former NASA scientist, works with materials science, or the study of structure, properties and performance of such things as metals, ceramics, semiconductors, polymers, composites and biomaterials. Using ceramics, Hanan has combined his material with existing body armor materials to create an additional layer of protection without adding much weight or encumbering movement.

“Our goal is make sure the bullet causes the least amount of damage to the body,” said Hanan. “When we compare our technology to the others available on the market, we reduce the back face signature by between twenty to thirty percent.”

For soldiers in the field, that could mean a recovery time of seconds versus minutes or being completely knocked out, a critical factor in the battlefield. At this point, Hanan has tested the armor in the laboratory, and is hoping to begin field testing soon.

The project morphed out of a project underway by Donna Branson at the OSU Institute of Protective Apparel Research and Technology in Stillwater, who is working on flexible suits for fire protection. After learning about the research, Hanan volunteered his composite plates to be customized for the project.

Hanan received funding from the U.S. Navy to create a stronger armor plate, and in the process discovered that the design was stronger than what was already available on the market. While strength is a key factor, Hanan also wants to make sure the armor isn’t too heavy for use in the field.

“Soldiers are typically carrying around 109 pounds of equipment in the field, so any pound we can take away from that is going to help their joints, help them move faster and help them carry other things they need,” said Hanan. “There are a lot of important reasons to go lighter.”

In 2010, Hanan’s team came up with a business plan for a company that could manufacture the material needed for the plates. He also began working with the Department of Defense, to use the plates in the development of the next generation of body armor.

With the assistance of a group of graduate researchers, Hanan has been working on the armor project to not only create the materials, as well as prepare it for marketing. “I would not be able to do this without assistance from my students,” he said.

Hanan sees a number of other practical applications for the material used in body armor plates, particularly in aerospace applications. “While armor had the immediate application, the Federal Aviation Administration could approve what we are creating for use in manufacturing airplane parts,” he said.

The metal glass material, with its strength and light weight, makes it an ideal component for use in a variety of areas.

“The way we make our material is so different than the way other people manufacture theirs that it allows us to think about how we can use our material in a different way,” said Hanan. “There’s a tremendous number of applications we could try, but we’re very much focused on the armor and aerospace applications because those are two areas that are important to Oklahoma’s economy.”

Funding for Hanan’s project has been provided by the Office of Naval Research, Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation.

This story originally ran in the 2013 issue of Vanguard.

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