ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Army scientists are researching polymer networks for vehicle armor to support the next generation combat vehicle. This futuristic Army vehicle is one of the service’s modernization priorities.Like a chef making a new recipe, Army scientists fine tune chemical properties to produce a new material that can be as transparent as glass, but performs under the intense conditions expected by tomorrow’s Soldiers. This new material is completely customizable as researchers can control the stiffness, toughness and ballistic impact performance--yet maintain high optical clarity.“Glass-like optical clarity can be maintained at every composition we investigated,” said Army materials research engineer Dr. Kevin Masser. “We now have a more fundamental insight on how the length of crosslinking units influences high rate impact performance of polymer networks.”One example of a cross-linked polymer is vulcanized synthetic rubber, which is found in tires. A polymer networks are made up of highly crosslinked materials that result in a 3D structure.At the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory, Masser does basic and applied research to support the future Army.“The ballistic performance of some of the networks we synthesized is up to 400% greater than the performance of a pure methacrylate polymer,” he said. “We demonstrated a new class of highly transparent, methacrylate-based polymer networks.”This boost is because of a crosslinking agent they used to create the network. When the length of this crosslinking agent is just right, the ballistic performance improves significantly, Masser said.When it comes to the production of acrylic, this research has extended previous research efforts.“We were able to use the highly customizable nature of these networks to explore what happens when the ductility of the crosslinker is very high, very low or some intermediate value,” he said.Masser–the lead author of an article published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Polymer Science–said this research supports the next generation combat vehicle as it relates to glass-reinforced composites.“I believe this work will positively impact the warfighter,” he said. “In addition to a set of materials, which show promise for multiple types of armor applications, this work helps us to understand more of the underlying physics of high-rate impacts. The knowledge gained is applicable to any polymer network, even if this particular class of network ultimately proves to be unusable.”The next steps, he said, are to continue investigating this class of networks. Researchers will integrate these materials into armor packages and evaluate environmental durability, as well as impact performance.Article co-authors include Dr. Joshua A. Orlicki, Eugene Napadensky, Terrence Taylor from CCDC-ARL and Doug Harris from Bowhead.CCDC Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, CCDC leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.