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How could a novel discovery by a UW-Stevens Point Professor lead to better protective equipment products?

UW-Stevens Point Professor John Droske piloted a research initiative that discovered a novel transparent dilatant material.

Dilatant materials are shear thickening fluids whose shear viscosities increase as they encounter stress—that is, these materials harden upon impact.

Dilatant materials currently have multiple applications, including personal protective equipment and body armor to everyday electronic device covers. However, only a few dilatant materials are known. Further, controlling the transparency of the materials is difficult and limits their use.

Through his research, Droske developed a technology that results in the synthesis of materials that show dilatant characteristics and exhibit consistent transparency throughout the material.

In addition, the technology can be modified to control the exact amount of dilatancy desired. This allows for applications that require varying degrees of impact protection and shock absorbency. The resin also allows for the “dilatant properties to be repeated over and over,” as it quickly returns to its viscous state after hardening due to rapid impact, Droske said.

Droske made the discovery serendipitously.

“The dilatant materials were developed as part of our effort to prepare sustainable lifecycle thermoset materials,” Droske said.

Through the synthesis and testing of various polymer resins, he observed that “one of the members of this series of resins was very different from the others.” It showed unusual dilatant properties. In addition, this dilatant resin is composed of a single chemical component, whereas dilatant materials usually consist of two components.

In the future, Droske will seek to “work with an industrial partner who can fully test and possibly make use of these unusual properties,” perhaps from those specializing in sports equipment, LED displays, or automotive businesses.