HomeNewsArticle Display

AFRL achieves “shocking” materials technology breakthrough


The Air Force Research Laboratory, along with research partners at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Washington, are working to change the shape of materials technology with a breakthrough development that could open up a new range of possibilities for the military and beyond.

Through an Air Force Office of Scientific Research-funded basic research effort, the collaborative team developed a 3-D printed polymer-based foam structure that responds to the force of a shock wave to act as a one-way switch, a long sought-after goal in shock research.

According to Dr. Jonathan Spowart, AFRL senior materials research engineer, this novel material configuration, although in the early stages of development, has the potential to be scaled up in order to be used in different ways for a variety of applications, including for the protection of structures.

Spowart describes the material as a foam-like structure that contains a series of specifically-engineered tiny holes that determine the overall behavioral characteristics. Over a period of months, AFRL experts used computer modeling to run trials to determine the most effective hole geometries to achieve the desired material response. When they would arrive at a promising configuration, Spowart says the team would print a small test article, a flat plate not much bigger than a pencil eraser. With the help of Los Alamos National Laboratory, working on-site at the Dynamic Compression Sector user facility at Argonne National Laboratory, Washington, they would then conduct tests and image the specimen using X-rays to determine performance.

From there, the AFRL team would review results and fine-tune the material configuration to further refine the product through additional modeling and testing. Spowart described the end product as containing a series of hollow cones. When these cones encounter a shock wave, they collapse inward, forming jet protrusions that project from the opposite side. These jets localize the shock wave energy, which is the origin of the material’s unique directional behavior.

Spowart says this effort represents a significant breakthrough in materials engineering. He attributes this success to the collaboration, communication and expertise of the teams at AFRL, Los Alamos, and Argonne National Laboratory, as well as the basic research funding from AFOSR.

“The materials technology came from AFRL,” he said, crediting the modeling and materials expertise of the project team. “The testing facilities and test methodology came from Los Alamos. So when you put the two things together, you get a really good team.”

He adds that the remarkable test imaging provided by Argonne National Laboratory was crucial in proving out the concept. He explained that the laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source synchrotron is a unique piece of equipment that fires a very powerful and concentrated X-ray beam at the test article, allowing frame-by-frame imaging of a shock wave penetrating the specimen, all of which occurs within a few nanoseconds.

“This new imaging capability, together with the new manufacturing technology and computer simulations, allowed the team to obtain images and evaluate concepts in ways that were well beyond reach just a few years ago,” said Dr. Christopher Neel, AFRL Senior Mechanical Engineer.

“The Dynamic Compression Sector is a unique facility that enables in-situ imaging of dynamic events giving us unprecedented information of the microstructural effects on dynamic behavior,” added Brittany Branch, Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist, who led the dynamic experiments. “Traditional shock compression diagnostics would not elucidate the localization phenomena that is occurring during shock compression. We would see a difference in shock velocity with traditional techniques, but not understand why. These experiments were very exciting, since we demonstrated a shock diode for the first time.”

Spowart said the team plans to publish their findings and work toward transitioning the technology for further maturation and integration into existing systems, where he believes this technology has tremendous potential. “We are very excited about this effort and the teamwork that made it possible. This is a great example of what basic research can do to strengthen our capabilities.”


Facebook Twitter
RT @AFResearchLab: Let's celebrate the beginning of Fall and the changing of leaves with this optical microscopy of deformation twins in hi…
RT @624RSG: Are you facing a challenge or dealing with a struggle? People find hope in many different ways, whether it's through family, fa…
RT @AF_Academy: You can’t beat this view. You just can’t. 📸@USAFWingsofBlue https://t.co/JLZcPVp7uP
RT @AirMobilityCmd: #Mobilty #Airmen will move heaven and earth to keep America’s promises to its service members. Check out this story of…
RT @DeptofDefense: Bringing them home. More than 82,000 Americans remain missing from #WWII through the Gulf Wars and other conflicts. The…
RT @USAF_ACC: Today is POW/MIA Day. We will forever remember and honor the lives lost fighting for our country. 🇺🇸 #USAF #POWMIARecognitio
Weren't able to make #ASC19 this year? No problem. We've got the goods. Push ▶️ to hear from first-time attendees a… https://t.co/rEOE1eukwz
Howdy Texans! #AmerciasAirForce is heading to the #lonestarstate on Sept. 27. Hear this #Airman share his love for… https://t.co/BS1ysk4ST3
The return of great power competition requires the U.S. military services to change and adapt quickly. Hear from De… https://t.co/kKiNeHywzp
RT @AirMobilityCmd: The four fans of freedom are blowing strong as a U.S Air Force C-130J Hercules from Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansa…
RT @ActingSecAF: Kudos to @AirForceAssoc on #ASC19 👏🏻 What a wonderful professional opportunity for #Airmen & industry to expand our compe…
.@ACC_Commander designates the 16th Air Force as a new information warfare numbered #AirForce at #ASC19. As… https://t.co/LMiMJ3rWNO
RT @AstroHague: Thank you to the Airmen across the globe who make the human exploration of space possible. Wishing the @usairforce a happy…
RT @Hanscom_AFB: “The @usairforce is leading the charge across @DeptofDefense. No one else in #government has as much ... of this software…
RT @PACAF: Commanders from Australia, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Philippines, Thailand and the U.S. met for the 2019 Logistics and Safet…
To all those who helped establish the long blue line past, present and future, we honor you and we remember with th… https://t.co/teymF7proy
#ASC19: "We’re all in this together trying to make your service to country the best experience on the planet. We w… https://t.co/rdbCDBJr2c
#VCSAF Gen. Stephen Wilson speaks on what makes the #AirForce unique. #ASC19 https://t.co/gStwUZoaQC
RT @AFSpace: @AstroHague takes #aimhigh to the extreme by celebrating the @usairforce's birthday from the @Space_Station! #FrontiersofBlue