Whittaker part of team developing bio-informed armor to protect buildings, bridges and infrastructure

By Peter Murphy

Published February 6, 2018

A new research project, funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), uses biologically inspired structural engineering. Specifically, the research team hopes to develop a lightweight composite system similar, in concept, to the armoring systems in turtle shells.

The team, made up of professors Tuan Ngo and Priyan Mendis of the University of Melbourne, professor Alex Remennikov of the University of Wollongong and UB structural engineering professor Andrew Whittaker are developing the system to protect a wide range of structures against blast and impact loadings.

“The construction of the system is informed by analysis of the armoring systems employed in nature, including the shells of turtles and red abalone,” says Whittaker. Buildings, bridges, infrastructure and military assets, including vehicles, are all areas where this new system can be applied.

The overarching goal of the project is to develop, test and deploy a multifunctional, lightweight, modular panel system with superior mechanical properties to current sandwich panel systems.

The 3-year project began in 2017. The team has already developed methods using advanced manufacturing to fabricate negative Poisson’s ratio shells needed for the system. Ngo, Mendis, Remennikov and Whittaker have tested the panels under compressive and tensile loadings. Impact tests on trial panels have begun at the University of Wollongong, utilizing the University’s impact hammer. Blast trials have been completed at a facility in New South Wales. Shock tube testing is set to commence using the Advanced Blast Simulator, now being commissioned at the University of Wollongong.

Once the necessary tests are complete, the next steps in this process will be to develop numerical models to predict the performance of panels, and prepare analytic models for use by building and other structure designers.