March 25, 2002
Volume 80, Number 12
CENEAR 80 12 p. 12
ISSN 0009-2347
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MIT aims to outfit combat troops with integrated nanoscience capabilities


The Army has awarded Massachusetts Institute of Technology $50 million to create the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. Over the next five years, ISN scientists will create lightweight molecular materials to equip soldiers with uniforms and gear that can heal them, shield them, and protect them against such threats as chemical and biological warfare.

ISN will be staffed by up to 150 people, including 35 MIT professors from nine departments in the Schools of Engineering, Science, and Architecture & Planning. Using nanoscale science, researchers will focus on six key military capabilities: threat detection, threat neutralization (such as bulletproof clothing), concealment, enhanced human performance, real-time automated medical treatment, and weight-load reduction of a fully equipped soldier from as much as 145 lb to about 45 lb.

?These themes will be addressed by seven research teams: energy-absorbing materials, mechanically active materials for devices and exoskeletons, detections and signature management, biomaterials and nanodevices
for soldier medical technology, process systems for manufacture and processing of materials, modeling and simulation, and systems integration.

Specific ideas researchers want to develop include a uniform that is nearly invisible, soft clothing that can become a rigid cast when a soldier breaks a leg, and chain mail made of lightweight molecular materials.

"Our mandate is to deliver for the soldier," says Timothy M. Swager, a professor of chemistry and associate director of ISN. He says ISN's multidisciplinary research teams will take "an integrated view of how to create uniforms of the future."

Industry partners for ISN, including DuPont and Raytheon, will kick in another $40 million in funding for facilities and equipment. Industry researchers will also participate along with Army specialists as well as physicians from Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston's Brigham & Women's Hospital.

"We made the decision very early on to work with MIT on its proposal," says Wayne Marsh, a DuPont research manager. He says that MIT's concept of bringing in "founding partners" from industry prompted DuPont to share some of its intellectual property with MIT researchers. "We gave them some inputs on technology we knew about." As ISN develops, Marsh says, there will be a constant flow of DuPont experts to the institute to share ideas and expertise.

A number of different chemical technologies will be investigated, says Paula T. Hammond, associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT. She says nanoscience insights will be used to create uniforms that can detect threats from chemical or biological weapons, hide the infrared signal from a soldier's body, and change colors or layers of colors as needed. "We want to integrate all those abilities into one uniform," Hammond says.

At a news conference, ISN Director Ned Thomas said, "Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armor and endowed with superhuman capabilities, such as the ability to leap over 20-foot walls."

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