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US Navy develops tougher ceramic for armored vehicle windows

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May 1, 2014

The newly-developed nanocrystalline spinel could lead to enhanced protection for personnel (Photo: Shutterstock)

The newly-developed nanocrystalline spinel could lead to enhanced protection for personnel (Photo: Shutterstock)

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A team of experts at the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed a new way of fabricating spinel, an armor material used in the windows of military vehicles, demonstrating that the strength of transparent ceramics could be dramatically improved. The nanocrystalline spinel is 50 percent harder than the spinel currently used in armored vehicles and could result in enhanced protection for personnel.

Reducing the average size of the grains (crystallites) in a material has long been thought to improve its strength. This is known as the Hall-Petch relationship, though some previous experiments have demonstrated a breakdown in this theory when working with grains sized 130 nanometers.

Using a technique they call Enhanced High Pressure Sintering (EHPS), the researchers were able to reduce the average grain size to 28 nanometers, observing no decline in density or fracture resistance. Using this EHPS method to fabricate the spinel involves the application of high amounts of pressure (up to 6 GPa). This works to break up gatherings of nanoparticles and reposition them close to one another to minimize the formation of minute holes in the final product.

Previous efforts to manufacture nanocrystalline spinel have resulted in reduced density, reduced fracture resistance or reduced transparency. However, the work carried out by the NRL researchers indicates that nanocrystalline ceramics can be of equal strength to microcystalline ceramics.

In addition to offering greater protection for military personnel, nanocrystalline spinel could make the production of armored windows more cost effective. At present, sapphire is used in some of these applications with one downside being the associated cost. If the researchers can improve the hardness enough, they say they could replace sapphire windows with ones made from nanocrystalline spinel.

Further to military applications, the harder spinel could prove useful in making stronger windows for civilian offices and vehicles, along with more durable screens for tablets and phones.

The team's research was published in the journal Acta Materialla.

Source: US Naval Research Laboratory

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About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars
3 Comments

So how long till we see this in cellphones?

Keith Lamb

Adapt to automotive , truck windows IE Limosuines Armored cars?? Must Lisc to auto armorers for use worldwide.

Stephen Russell

I had no idea that ceramic could be made to be so strong. What's the difference between consumer and military grade ceramic? I know it's often used in piping and plumbing but I'm sure it's made completely differently. Thanks for sharing your tips with us.

Sergio Freddson
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