A UVA engineer has made a breakthrough in safety cushioning by developing a liquid-based technology. This liquid safety cushioning technology could revolutionize safety measures across various industries. By leveraging the unique properties of a specially formulated fluid material, the engineer created a solution that maximizes protection while maintaining usability and comfort.
The technology has shown promising results in reducing the risk of injuries by effectively absorbing and dispersing impact energy. With its versatility and customizable nature, this innovation has a wide range of applications in transportation, sports and industrial environments, paving the way for a safer future.
Football players facing the risk of permanent brain damage from head hits have led to a race for better head protection. Thanks to the work of BAOXING XU, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Virginia, and his research team, nanofoam, the material found inside football helmets, has received a significant upgrade. Combining nanofoam with a specially designed “non-wetting ionized liquid” created a liquid cushion that maximizes athlete protection.
This breakthrough could benefit not only sports equipment, but also car commuters and hospital patients who use wearable medical devices. The team’s research, recently published in Advanced Materials, addresses the need for a material that can withstand multiple impacts while providing cushioning and resilience. Their previous work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explored using fluids in nanofoam to meet the complex safety requirements of high-contact sports.
Su said, “We found that creating a liquid nanofoam cushion using ionized water instead of regular water made a significant difference in how the material performed. Using ionized water in the design is a breakthrough because we discovered an unusual liquid-ion coordination network, which makes it possible to create a more complex material.
The liquid nanofoam cushion developed by Professor BAOXING XU and his research team offers better impact dispersion and head protection inside the helmet. The cushion compresses on impact, reducing the force transmitted to the head and reducing the risk of injury. After each hit, it regains its original shape, ensuring the helmet’s ongoing effectiveness. The improved material is more flexible and comfortable, reacting dynamically to external shocks.
This innovation opens up the possibilities for lighter, smaller and safer protective equipment, revolutionizing future helmet designs. Associate Professor WEIYI LU from Michigan State University highlights the potential of more miniature helmets with liquid nanofoam liners for improved head protection in various sports.
Conventional nanofoam relies on physical properties such as collapse and density to protect against impact. However, it has limitations in terms of recovery and ability to absorb high-powered blows. Moreover, multiple minor impacts can stiffen the foam and render it less effective at providing protection. To address these issues, the research team manipulated the mechanical properties of the materials by combining nanoporous materials with non-wetting liquid or deionized water.
This innovation enables the material to respond to shocks within microseconds, thanks to superfast liquid transport in a nanoconfined environment. The liquid nanofoam cushion can also return to its original shape after unloading as the liquid is expelled from the pores. This dynamic conforming and reforming ability solves the stiffness problem caused by micro-impacts.
Liquid Nano Foam technology enhances safety in athletic gear. It has potential applications in other collision-prone areas such as cars and the healthcare industry. In the automotive sector, the material can create protective cushions that absorb impacts and reduce vibrations and noise during a crash, aligning with the evolving landscape of electric propulsion and automated vehicles.
Additionally, the use of liquid nanofoam in wearable medical devices such as smartwatches can improve accuracy by providing a soft, flexible foam-like material at the base of the device. It enables better sensor contact with the skin, increases comfort during prolonged wear, acts as a shock absorber, and protects the sensors and the user’s skin from accidental impacts.
- Mingzhe Li, Baoxing Xu, et al., Nanoconfined Water-Ion Coordination Network for Flexible Energy Dissipation Device. Extensive materials. DOI:10.1002/adma.202303759.