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June 15, 2006


Dude, I so totally thought of this first for Old Man's War:

A new "liquid armor" could be the solution for protecting the parts of the body that aren't currently covered by standard-issue ballistic vests – arms and legs, where many of these devastating and life-threatening injuries occur. Co-developed by two research teams – one led by Norman Wagner at the University of Delaware, and the other led by Eric Wetzel at the U.S. Army Research Lab in Aberdeen, MD – the liquid technology will soon lead to light, flexible full-body armor.
The liquid - called shear thickening fluid is actually a mixture of hard nanoparticles and nonevaporating liquid. It flows normally under low-energy conditions, but when agitated or hit with an impact it stiffens and behaves like a solid. This temporary stiffening occurs less than a millisecond after impact, and is caused by the nanoparticles forming tiny clusters inside the fluid. "The particles jam up forming a log jam structure that prevents things from penetrating through them," Wagner explains.
Wagner and Wetzel developed a way to specially treat ballistic fabrics, such as Kevlar, with the liquid, making them dramatically more resistant to puncture and much better at reducing blunt trauma.

Will I see a dime from this? No! Damn, I knew I should have filed that patent.

Posted by john at June 15, 2006 01:47 PM

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Bob Strauss | June 15, 2006 02:25 PM

Invest in this: laptops without batteries, with electric power transmitted through the air. Agfa is already working on it.

Stan | June 15, 2006 02:41 PM

Bob, that sounds like something from Tesla. A century ago, he had done preliminary studies on transmitting power on a carrier wave similar to how radio is transmitted.

I bet the hardest/most importnat part is figuring out how much each person uses so that you can charge them and to catch cheaters.

RooK | June 15, 2006 02:51 PM

Er, didn't Niven write something similar a couple decades ago? And I'm pretty sure that defense contractors have been working on variable-strength material for armour since the early 90's.

Still, a neat link.

John Scalzi | June 15, 2006 02:55 PM

No, RooK. It's all ME.

(performs Jedi mind trick)

Now, you were saying?

Kafkaesquí | June 15, 2006 03:12 PM

You have at least filed for a trademark on the BrainPal name, yes?

Annalee Flower Horne | June 15, 2006 03:13 PM

corpus bones, you have no idea how much I've been geeking out about the possible costume design applications of this sort of tech.

Can we finally say goodbye to impractical leather superhero costumes? Why yes, I think we can.

Lars | June 15, 2006 03:34 PM

Cooooooooooooooool. I wanna get shot in one of those.

Hey John, it's not to late to patent that computerized gun, is it?

Byron | June 15, 2006 03:46 PM

Stephenson also had something like this (even the gel-like property) in Snow Crash for YT's skater gear.

RooK | June 15, 2006 03:50 PM

...these aren't the droids we're looking for.
Move along. Move along.

Mitch Wagner | June 15, 2006 04:34 PM

John Brunner used something like this for Stand on Zanzibar about 40 years ago. It was just a glove, for one hand, used for offense rather than defense; punching someone or delivering a blow in some other way was like hitting them with a mailed fist.

He called it a "Karatand."

Bill Marcy | June 15, 2006 05:02 PM

An easy way to see this kind of chemical reaction, mix some water with corn starch and observe the properties. Very cool.

John Scalzi | June 15, 2006 05:29 PM

I believe you can make standing waves with water and corn starch, can you not?

Douglas | June 15, 2006 07:04 PM

As I recall this is called a non-newtonian liquid and my HS science teach 'invented' it with corn starch and water back in the 80's.

Dave Klecha | June 15, 2006 07:48 PM

Shear-thickening fluid has been in development for ... a few years. I heard about it in 2004, I think. Can't get here too soon.

Ann | June 15, 2006 09:17 PM

I was all set to say, "This isn't new tech, I did it in the kitchen with my kids just yesterday!"

Beaten to the corn starch, dang it!

PaintedJaguar | June 15, 2006 10:39 PM

Impact armor. Another common SF trope turns real. Cool.

Speaking of leather superhero costumes -- when the first X-Men movie came out there was some foofaraw about how the black leather outfits were so much more believable & "real" than the typical comic book stuff. Let's see... your biggest problem is that the "normals" are fearful and suspicious of your kind. So of course you want to take your most publicly visible group and parade them around in intimidating head-to-toe black leather, just like Nazis and Darth you-know-who. Instead of something that looks friendly and harmless, like, I don't know, yellow spandex? Just saying.

Smurf | June 15, 2006 11:06 PM

If we are hearing about it now, they've probably been working on it when John's best writing was asking Santa for a new Atari game. You'll never see a penny, my friend.

Soni | June 16, 2006 01:25 AM

PaintedJaguar, never underestimate the power of a leather-clad Hugh Jackman to pull the purse-holding X-chromes into the theaters to fight for seats to view what is usually acknowledged as a male-dominated genre.

Hell, I paid for hubs and me to sit through all three episodes, plot-holes and all, just to see him prowl around in his dead-animal get-up and I'm a vegetarian. *drool* (not that he's not just as retina-searingly hot in his denim mufti, mind). *fans self*

Had he been ensconced in yellow spandex, eh...not so much. It would set off too many collective Jane Fonda workout video flashbacks.

Wakboth | June 16, 2006 02:18 AM

GDW's "2300 AD" SF RPG (wow, that's a whole lot of acronyms!) had this kind of impact-hardening armor as well; IIRC, they called it inertial armor.

Now, all we need is the beanstalk, and maybe a breakthrough in FTL physics...

Brian | June 16, 2006 02:43 AM

Incidentally, starch/water and Scalziweave™, as shear-thickening fluids, are functionally opposed to the shear-thinning fluids, such as ketchup. Sooo... Scalziweave™ is the anti-ketchup!

Re: laptop power transmitted through air... I'm somewhat skeptical, all things considered. Given the wattage required to power your average laptop, I'd think an energy transmitter sufficient to provide that power would also fry most living matter in the vicinity. Mayhap if a non-biologically-absorbing frequency were found it'd be fine... I'd definitely love to be proven wrong on this one, though... no cables are happy cables!

Q | June 16, 2006 07:34 AM

I think there are not so subtle differences between shear thickening fluids and the more mundane non-Newtonian fluids, but the have similarities. The best non-Newtonian fluid in my opinion is Silly Putty. Take a pice and stretch it apart very slowly and watch what happens... now do the same thing really fast. Voila'

Mad Scientist Matt | June 16, 2006 09:26 AM

There's been something similar to that on the market for a couple years - it doesn't have quite the same range from fully liquid to bulletproof solid, going from something more like Nerf foam to Styrofoam.

Funny that the subject of leather costumes came up in this thread, too, as the main use for this foam (at least that I'm aware of) is sewing it motorcycle outfits, which often happen to resemble superhero costumes a bit. Take a look at this page and scroll down to "Memory foam armor."


Chris S. | June 16, 2006 11:22 AM

Speaking as a former camp counsellor, that cornstarch+water+food-colouring combination saved my sanity on many a rainy day. A few sunny days, too.

Soni: totally with you on the Jackman/leather issue. Though am I the only one who thought it odd in X3 {minor spoiler}that Phoenix shredded his skin and shirt but not his pants? What's up with that?

Brian Greenberg | June 16, 2006 01:02 PM

John - congrats on your Rodenberryness.

Cooooooooooooooool. I wanna get shot in one of those.

Best. Comment. Ever.

Brian | June 17, 2006 03:14 AM

Technically speaking, non-Newtonian fluids are the (broad) class of fluids wherein the shear stress exerted by a velocity gradient is not linearly proportional to that gradient. (I'm pretty sure Newton was the first guy to make the assumption of that linear proportionality.) Shear-thickening fluids are thus a specific sub-class of the non-Newtonian fluids.

In fact, 'shear-thickening' is really a phenomenological description of what's going on, described by a local increase of viscosity (thickening) under a high flow driving force (e.g., bullet impact --> fluid shear). Mathematically, viscosity is concisely defined in rather few non-Newtonian systems; the aforementioned velocity gradients and shear forces are more commonly the working variables.

*Grumble* Transport homework <twitch>

Epacris | June 20, 2006 08:20 AM

Phoenix shredded his skin and shirt but not his pants? What's up with that?
I believe this is known as The 'Hulk' Co-efficient of Differential Shreddability :)

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