Researchers claim they’ve manufactured the world’s first non-cuttable material — with a mere 15% steel’s density — which they say could be made into a lightweight armor or indestructible bike lock, according to a paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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Making ‘non-cuttable’ material
Named Proteus, the new material consists of ceramic spheres arranged in a cellular aluminum structure to resist angle grinders, drills, or similar brute-force cutting tools. Stemming from the U.K’s Durham University and Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, the novel material takes inspiration from the durable and cellular skin of grapefruit, in addition to the rock-hard, fracture-resistant aragonite shells of mollusks.
Proteus’ outer plate will give way to drill bits or angle grinders, but when either reaches the embedded ceramic spheres, the material begins to vibrate in a way that blunts the tool’s sharp edges as fine particles of ceramic dust fill in the gaps of the matrix-like structure of the metal. These, in turn, make it even more difficult to cut — since the faster one grinds or drills the harder cutting gets “due to interatomic forces between the ceramic grains,” and “the force and energy of the drill is turned back on itself, and it is weakened and destroyed by its own attack,” according to the researchers, reports New Atlas.
Additionally, the new material has equally effective resistance to water jet cutters — obviously rare among bike thieves — because the spherical shape of ceramic chunks widens the water jet, increasing the area of applied force, and thus weakening the pressure of the cut.
This CT scan of the Proteus material shows how cellular aluminum structure is wrapped around ceramic spheres — failed attempts to cut with a grinder are on the bottom right. Source: Durham University / YouTube
Nuggets and jelly cancel cutting motion
“Essentially cutting our material is like cutting through a jelly filled with nuggets,” said Stefan Szyniszewski, lead author and assistant professor of applied mechanics at Durham’s engineering department, according to a blog post on Durham University’s website. “If you get through the jelly you hit the nuggets and the material will vibrate in such a way that it destroys the cutting disc or drill bit.”
“The ceramics embedded in this flexible material are also made of very fine particles which stiffen and resist the angle grinder or drill when you’re cutting at speed in the same way that a sandbag would resist and stop a bullet at high speed. This material could have lots of useful and exciting applications in the security and safety industries. In fact we are not aware of any other manufactured non-cuttable material in existence as of now.”
As space-age materials like Proteus move from the laboratory to markets and military applications, it’s interesting to note that much of the technological advances made in modern-day engineering — from upgraded bird drones to next-gen armor — are take inspiration from nature.