Non-Newtonian fluid body armor probably wasn’t on Dr. Christopher Pannucci’s mind as he treated the woman for a gunshot wound. It would be just another case in the E.R., except for one peculiar fact. The bullet’s trajectory altered after it hit her breast implant, missing the heart and saving her life. The case piqued his curiosity. “The entrance and exit wounds were not in a straight line, so we thought the implant must have caused the bullet to slow down and alter its trajectory,” he told NewScientist.com.
He assembled a team of experts and tested the theory. The results aren’t shocking to firearm owners, although his expense report may raise eyebrows. After passing through large saline implants, handgun bullets traveled roughly 20 percent less through ballistics gelatin blocks behind. Muzzle velocities were a little more than 930 fps and distance to target was almost 8 feet.
Pannucci noted bullets collected after passing through the supple-to-the-touch barrier exhibited a larger diameter and flatter profile. He theorizes the corresponding increase in drag coefficient slows velocity until lifesaving turns become possible. He explained, “But it would depend on the bullet velocity and the size and type of the implant.”
Non-Newtonian Fluid Body Armor Research
The news probably won’t get much of a rise out of researchers who’ve been working on a liquid outer layer to protect law enforcement and military personnel. In 2010, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory released a video on advancements after a decade of experiments with a non-Newtonian shear thickening fluid—light and flexible enough to be used in the parts of fatigues not traditionally protected by body armor.
The same year, BAE announced a Kevlar/liquid mix that researchers affectionately labeled bulletproof custard. “Its [the liquid] molecules lock together more tightly when struck,” the Popular Science article explains.
By 2015, Poland’s Military Institute of Military Technology had allegedly solved the nagging liquid body armor-weight riddle without compromising its performance—which greatly exceeds that of Kevlar. Viscosity in non-Newtonian fluids varies with force applied, potentially spreading energy across the entire media and those that thicken can instantly harden to armor-plate strength.
I have sudden urge watch Terminator again.