Science

Transparent Armour from NRL

Imagine a glass window that’s tough like armor, a camera lens that doesn’t get scratched in a sand storm, or a smart phone that doesn’t break when dropped. Except it’s not glass, it’s a special ceramic called spinel {spin-ELL} that the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has been researching over the last 10 years.

Spinel is actually a mineral, it’s magnesium aluminate, says Dr Jas Sanghera, who leads the research. The advantage is it’s so much tougher, stronger, harder than glass. It provides better protection in more hostile environments — so it can withstand sand and rain erosion.

As a more durable material, a thinner layer of spinel can give better performance than glass. For weight-sensitive platforms-UAVs [unmanned autonomous vehicles], head-mounted face shields—it’s a game-changing technology.

NRL invented a new way of making transparent spinel, using a hot press, called sintering. It’s a low-temperature process, and the size of the pieces is limited only by the size of the press. Ultimately, we’re going to hand it over to industry, says Sanghera, so it has to be a scalable process. In the lab, they made pieces eight inches in diameter. Then we licensed the technology to a company who was able then to scale that up to much larger plates, about 30-inches wide.

The sintering method also allows NRL to make optics in a number of shapes, conformal with the surface of an airplane or UAV wing, depending on the shape of the press — via redwolf.newsvine.com

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