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UVA Team Researching Smaller, Lighter Body Armor

Sandy Hausman/Radio IQ

At this time of year, temperatures in Iraq routinely rise into the mid-90’s and in summer the record high is 124 degrees.  That’s brutal for soldiers who carry heavy packs and wear body armor to protect them from bullets. 

A team at the University of Virginia is now doing research for the Department of Defense, hoping to provide information that could lead to lighter forms of protection. 

The average bullet travels about 1,700 miles an hour, and while a balistic vest can stop it and save lives, victims may still suffer deep bruises and damage to internal organs from the force.  

"The projectile doesn’t defeat the body armor.  It doesn’t go thru the body armor, but it does dent the body armor," University of Virginia prfessor Rob Salzar notes.

At the Center for Applied Biomechanics, Salzar and four other engineers are hoping to help develop better protective gear.  "The DOD is very proud of the fact that there has never been a defeat of a piece of body armor within the specifications that the body armor was designed for. It’s just too heavy."

Sixty to 100 pounds to be exact, and that’s on top of the heavy packs soldiers must often carry according to engineer Kyvory Henderson.  "They’ve got their water rations, food rations, you name it," Henderson says.

Fortunately, Salzar’s team doesn’t have to use people or even animals when they test in the lab.  "Right now we test it on a soft, playdough like surrogate.  We would shoot the body armor on the clay surrogate, take the body armor off and measure the depth of penetration in the soft clay.

Their hope is to provide the data needed to better protect the heart, lungs and other vital organs while thinning protection over areas that can tolerate greater force – and, in so doing, create lighter protective gear.

 ***Editor's Note: The University of Virginia is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.