NATICK, Mass. (Oct. 15, 2015) -- Army researchers are partnering with universities to improve Soldier capabilities and protection.
At the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, senior research biologist Kris Senecal is collaborating with North Carolina State University, or NC State, which has resulted in the development of nonwoven, multifunctional materials. Senecal partnered with NC State's Nonwovens Institute, or NWI.
In a separate effort, she is developing novel textile coatings using atomic layer deposition, or ALD, with Dr. Gregory Parsons, director of the NC State Nanotechnology Initiative.
"NC State University is one of the largest textile colleges in the United States," Senecal said. "The fact that Natick has a significant textile focus makes it very important that we continue to interact with NC State."
NWI is a consortium that encourages cooperation among government, private industry and academia. Senecal will be the chair of the consortium's Industrial Advisory Board's Executive Committee in 2016.
"Companies, such as Nike and Kimberly Clark, are involved," she said. "It's really a special consortium that is getting national attention."
Rather than being knitted or woven, nonwoven fabrics are made by connecting fibers with adhesives or by entangling fibers mechanically, chemically or thermally.
"Nonwoven materials include felt, cleaning wipes, filters for cars and air conditioners, or brake pads for your car," Senecal said. "As more demands come up for the warfighter, nonwoven materials could help solve certain needs. The institute is investigating nonwoven topics that we have a lot of interest in, including conductive textiles and antimicrobial textiles."
Through the institute, NC State graduate students are involved in research work on projects selected by the companies involved.
"The students love the chance to do Soldier research," Senecal said. "The students are very well trained, and the work gives them real-world experience. We give them input and provide feedback, and we interact with the main professors, as well. In return, it gives us fresh perspective, and we can leverage the research that is accomplished through the NWI."
As part of her own research, Senecal will be working with nonwoven materials supplied from member companies associated with the Nonwovens Institute on textile capacitors. The goal is to provide lightweight materials for wearable energy storage.
"Soldiers will have extra power capabilities built into the uniform, with no added weight penalty," Senecal said.
Senecal's collaboration with Parsons on ALD textile coatings will increase capabilities on existing fabric systems. In addition to being the director of the NC State Nanotechnology Initiative, Parsons is an Alcoa professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering.
"This research area applies a deposited conformal coating that is in the nanometer range," Senecal said. "You can tailor fabric properties specifically for differing environments by applying metal oxides and/or organic coatings using this coating technology, yet not increase fabric weight."
Research indicates that coatings could be used to improve Kevlar protection, she said.
"I was looking at putting the coatings on Kevlar, to improve cut- and puncture-resistance, and at the same time not degrade ballistic protection capabilities," Senecal said. "Initial results using ALD coating showed improvement on both cut- and puncture-resistance on Kevlar."
Coating technologies allow for the creation of multifunctional capabilities for the Soldier.
"The multifunctional capabilities include flame resistance, antimicrobial protection, and additional cut protection, as well as other capabilities," Senecal said. "You can tailor the coating technologies depending on what you need. The coating technologies can be added directly to an already existing uniform fabric."
"Working with Kris Senecal has been tremendous," Parsons said. "She is a highly-energetic and highly-creative researcher dedicated to new technology to promote Soldier safety and well-being. By sharing her passion with our group at NC State, she inspired us to find new solutions to protect Soldiers in the field from physical harm. She has helped teach students in my group the importance of DOD basic and applied research, and her insights push my students to address problems and create solutions well beyond the obvious next steps."
"It is great when something theoretical becomes everyday use," Senecal said. "I love to do the research, but I actually love to see that it has an impact. If it can make the Soldier safer, more comfortable, without adding any weight, that's rewarding."
"Kris is an excellent research partner who is willing to take on and solve the most challenging problems," Parsons said. "Her skills in personal engagement and enthusiasm for her work make her a tremendous asset for our research group and for the Army in general."
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.