Stephanie Kwolek: Saving Lives with Kevlar

Almost a really bad day in the woods.

Like most accidents, it happened in an instant that seemed to last an eternity. I had been felling trees for firewood all afternoon, and in the waning light of a cold November day, I was getting ready to call it quits. There was one tiny little white pine sapling left that I wanted to clear, no thicker than my arm. I walked over with my Stihl MS-290, with a brand new, razor sharp chain. I didn’t take this sapling seriously — my first mistake — and cut right through it rather than notching it. The tree fell safely, and I stood up with both hands on the saw. Somehow I lost my footing, swiveled, and struck my left knee hard with the still-running chainsaw. It kicked my knee back so hard that it knocked me to the ground.

In another world, that would likely have a been a fatal injury — I was alone, far from the house, and I would have had mere minutes to improvise a tourniquet before bleeding out. But as fate would have it, I was protected by my chainsaw chaps, full of long strands of the synthetic fiber Kevlar.

The chain ripped open the chaps, pulled the ultrastrong fibers out, and instantly jammed the saw. I walked away feeling very stupid, very lucky, and with not a scratch on me. Although I didn’t realize it at the time,  I owed my life to Stephanie Kwolek.

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Ask Hackaday: What can you do with Origami?

At some point, most of us have learned a little of the ancient art of origami. It’s a fascinating art form, and being able to create a recognizable model by simply folding paper in the right order can be hugely satisfying. Most of us move on to other pursuits once we master the classic crane model, but the mathematics behind origami can lead some practitioners past the pure art to more practical structures, like this folding ballistic barrier for law enforcement use.

The fifty-pound Kevlar and aluminum structure comes from Brigham Young University’s College of Mechanical Engineering, specifically from the Compliant Mechanisms Research program. Compliant mechanisms move by bending or deflecting rather than joints between discrete parts, and this ballistic shield is a great example. The mechanism is based on the Yoshimura crease pattern, which can be quickly modeled with a piece of paper. Scaling that up to a full-sized structure, light enough to be fielded but strong enough to stop a .44 Magnum round, was no mean feat. But as the video below shows, the prototype has a lot of potential.

Now it’s your turn: what applications have you seen for compliant mechanisms? Potential applications range in scale from MEMS linkages for microinjecting cells to huge antennas that unfurl in orbit. We’ve featured a few origami-like structures before, like this self-assembling robot or a folding quadcopter, but neither of these really rates as compliant. This elegant parabolic satellite antenna is more like it, though. There are applications for designing origami and a mathematical basis for the field; has anyone tried using these tools to design compliant structures? Sound off in the comments below.

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3D Printering: Aramid and Carbon Fiber Infused ABS

Last week, we had a look at a carbon-infused PETG filament. This week, I’d like to show you two composites based on a more common thermoplastic in 3D printing: ABS. Among a whole lot of other engineering plastics, the french company Nanovia manufactures Kevlar-like aramid-fiber-infused and carbon-fiber-infused ABS 3D printing filaments. These materials promise tougher parts with less warping while being just as easy to print as regular ABS. Let’s check them out!

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Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: A Low Cost, DIY Fuel Cell

Electronic cars and planes are the wave of the future, or so we’re told, but if you do the math on power densities, the future looks bleak. Outside of nuclear power, you can’t beat the power density of liquid hydrocarbons, and batteries are terrible stores of energy. How then do we tap the potential of high density fuels while still being environmentally friendly? With [Lloyd]’s project for The Hackaday Prize, a low cost hydrogen fuel cell.

Traditionally, fuel cells have required expensive platinum electrodes to turn hydrogen and oxygen into steam and electricity. Recent advances in nanotechnology mean these electrodes may be able to be produced at a very low cost.

For his experiments, [Lloyd] is using sulfonated para-aramids – Kevlar cloth, really – for the proton carrier of the fuel cell. The active layer is made from asphaltenes, a waste product from tar sand extraction. Unlike platinum, the materials that go into this fuel cell are relatively inexpensive.

[Lloyd]’s fuel cell can fit in the palm of his hand, and is predicted to output 20A at 18V. That’s doesn’t include the tanks for supplying hydrogen or any of the other system ephemera, but it is an incredible amount of energy in a small package.

You can check out [Lloyd]’s video for the Hackaday Prize below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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The Ancient Greeks Invented Kevlar Over 2 Millennia Ago

In 356-323 B.C. Alexander the Great of Macedon conquered almost the entire known world by military force. Surprisingly, not much is known about how he did it! An ancient and mysterious armor called Linothorax was apparently used by Alexander and his men which may have been one of the reasons for his ever so successful conquest. A group of students at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay (UWGB) have been investigating in detail and making their own version of it.

The problem is this type of armor decomposes naturally over time unlike more solid artifacts of stone and metal — meaning there is no physical proof or evidence of its existence. It has been described in around two dozen pieces of ancient literature and seen in over 700 visuals such as mosaics, sculptures and paintings — but there are no real examples of it. It is made (or thought to be) of many layers of linen glued together, much the same way that Kevlar body armor works.

The cool thing about this project is the students are designing their own Linothorax using authentic fabrics and glues that would have been available in that time period. The samples have been quite successful, surviving sharp arrows, swords, and even swinging axes at it. If this is the secret to Alexander the Great’s success… no wonder!

The group has lots of information on the topic and a few videos — stick around to learn more!

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