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NIST Develops Method to Test Body Armor Materials

The National Institute of Standards has formulated a new process to test fibers used in body armor that could help develop lighter materials for future protective apparel.

NIST said Monday the new research explores factors that lead to the deterioration of ballistics fibers inside body armor over time.

The Justice Department asked NIST to study ballistics fibers after an effort to deploy softer body armor with new material failed in 2003 and resulted to the death of a police officer.

The new vests showed improved quality over previous armor, but tests revealed that the new material’s mechanical properties began to deteriorate after months of normal use.

NIST researchers Gale Holmes and Christopher Soles developed a technique — dubbed positron annihilation lifetime spectroscopy — to characterize materials’ ability to protect from gunfire, especially after being worn in the field.

The PALS method works to provide a molecular-level view of the structure of materials to show if the folding of fibers result to vulnerabilities.

Holmes said researchers used PALS to characterize changes in the fibers that cannot be seen through other techniques.

Soles noted that the new method is the first tool that could help determine why some materials break after folding while some stay durable.

The research results may serve as a “design cue” for entities that seek to create alternatives to the current body armor or help make existing protective vests more comfortable, NIST said.

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