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Extreme Impacts Study Aims to Build Captain America's New Shield

Illustration of an asteroid shattering upon impact
An artist's rendition of an asteroid shattering. A new Johns Hopkins University institute will study what happens to materials under intense impact. (Image credit: NASA JSC photo S79-29478)

When a material undergoes a fast, hard impact — such as armor being struck by a bullet — what happens next? Johns Hopkins University is opening an institute just for the study of what happens to materials during high-impact collisions and other examples of "extreme materials science." 

In an example of what they'll examine, engineers from the Baltimore university have posted a video that shows a cube of basalt and glass shattering after being struck by a Pyrex sphere traveling one kilometer (0.6 miles) per second, or three times the speed of sound. The video itself was recorded at 23,000 frames per second.

Johns Hopkins received a $90 million grant from the U.S. Army earlier this month to assemble a team of experts from various sectors, including other universities, and develop new lightweight protective materials for people and vehicles. 

"The vision of the institute is to tackle the science issues associated with extreme events, and in this case to work with the Army to better protect our troops," new institute director K.T. Ramesh said in a statement.

Researchers at the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute will study what happens at the atomic level when metals, ceramics, polymers and more are hit at high velocities. They'll focus on basic research; the manufacture of armoring materials based on their findings will be left to others. 

"This is how I think about our effort with the Army: Captain America needs a new shield, and we're going to work with the Army to build it," said Ramesh, a Johns Hopkins engineering school professor.

Their work won't just apply to shielding and armoring, according to the university. High-impact studies can help scientists understand the dust particles that explosions create, and even can help them plan how to divert or break up an asteroid aimed at Earth,

This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to Live Science. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.

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