Waterproof Soldier Nanotechnology

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PROFESSOR: Here at MIT, we do have a project sponsored by the Army. That's the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology.

We were looking for a new way to coat very fine objects. We had this coating we developed really for another application, this coating of neural probes. And someone in a lab noticed that it made the underlying substrate hydrophobic, or waterproof, and try putting all kinds of things in the reactor. So we had pieces of cotton cloth, silk. We've actually even coated money. We have made dollar bills waterproof.

One of the interesting things about Karen Gleason's research is to it dovetails nicely with the experience we had at Fort Polk, where we met some soldiers. They had been out in the field for about six days, the last three of which had been raining. And we asked them, if they could wave a magic wand and wish for something, what would that be? And they thought for a second or so and they said, waterproof everything.

There's a great number of applications. One of the most interesting ones is actually coating Kevlar, which is used in the ballistic protection, the flak jacks that the soldiers wear. And it turns out those vests are quite heavy. Kevlar must be contained in a water barriers system. So it makes a quite thick pad, something around an inch thick. If we could use this nanoscale coating to coat the Kevlar and make it waterproof, we could significantly reduce the weight of the vest and maintain the soldiers' ability to be mobile.