Johns Hopkins University has won an award worth up to $90 million from the U.S. Army to form a new institute that will enable academic researchers nationwide to better understand precisely what happens when impacts on materials result in "extreme dynamic environments."
The Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI) will focus, in particular, on what happens to protective materials at the moment of intense impact, when a large amount of energy enters a small space in a short period of time. Researchers will build upon knowledge from experiments such as one in which a quarter-inch Pyrex sphere blasts into a four-inch cube of basalt and glass at three times the speed of sound (see video).
The award, funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, is one of the largest ever received by the Whiting School of Engineering. It unites a consortium of American scientists from universities, national laboratories and private industry. While the focus is on basic science and better understanding how materials behave when subjected to high velocity impact, the work likely will help industry develop new lightweight materials to better protect U.S. soldiers and vehicles.
"We will tackle the science associated with extreme events," said K. T. Ramesh, the Alonzo G. Decker, Jr. Professor of Science & Engineering at the Whiting School of Engineering, founding director of the institute and a professor of mechanical engineering (photo above). "This will enable us to work with the Army to better protect our troops." It also will give researchers insight into other extreme impact events, such as volcanic eruptions, nuclear explosions or asteroids smashing into the Earth.
The institute's researchers will delve into basic science-down to the atomic level-of what happens to metals, ceramics, polymers and other materials that are subjected to these extreme impacts. The research will span the disciplines of mechanical engineering, materials science, civil engineering, aerospace engineering and physics.
"This award provides us with the means to advance basic science to tackle some of today's toughest security problems," said Nicholas P. Jones, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School. "We are honored to be recognized for our ability to make a difference in this area."
"You can't develop a new protective material until you can understand what happens to it in extreme environments," Ramesh said. "Yet we must be able to design new materials if we want to protect ourselves from yet-unforeseen threats." HEMI's ultimate goal is "to produce a way of thinking that will allow the design of lightweight protective material systems that can be used for these extreme dynamic conditions."
HEMI's new labs, offices and collaborative rooms will occupy a third of Malone Hall, a 56,000-square-foot research building being built on Homewood campus. Partner institutions include Caltech, the University of Delaware and Rutgers University. The program is planned for a five-year initial study, and if successful, it may be renewed for an additional five years.