Undergrads research the use of ceramic in wartime armor

Somewhere on the Geneseo campus is a flash drive that contains 500 gigabytes of simulated gunshots and bullet wounds.

The shots replicate those of guns most commonly used against the United States in the Middle East, but the replicated wounds are not those of a soldier's. They are called ceramic wounds: damages to small ceramic cylinders. A network of 32 computers generates virtual cylinders made from a material that, one day, may serve as armor for U.S. military vehicles.

For the past four years Geneseo has been home to a research project, a study of the versatility and reliability of ceramic as wartime armor. Under the direction of physics professor James McLean, the undergraduate experience of eight students has been augmented by the opportunity to help with this extensive project.

This study falls under sect of research commissioned by Armor Dynamics Inc., a company that constructs and distributes materials to the U.S. armed forces. According to its website, the company was "founded by individuals with security, engineering, manufacturing and military backgrounds" that are "critical in developing new and innovative products for the military, law enforcement and homeland security forces."

The New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovations paired McLean and the college with Armor Dynamics, Inc. The state created NYSTAR to facilitate studies like this one; McLean said that the program was instituted "to assist in high-tech development."

The role that Geneseo plays in Armor Dynamic's research is straightforward. McLean said that both faculty and students must "look at [Armor's] invention in more detail and understand it, and ultimately in understanding it, be able to improve it."

That process, however, is quite time-consuming. One simulation takes about 10 hours to create, and even then it may be a failure. In order to observe the virtual damage done to the ceramic, researchers have dedicated the past four years to designing and testing simulation after simulation.

Researchers have tested many different shapes and sizes of ceramic and have varied the location of the bullet's impact. Specific conclusions have already been reached. "This summer [Armor] learned what we were suggesting," McLean said. "They haven't had time to actually investigate and implement it yet."

McLean said that he and his fellow researchers hope that Armor will look into the study soon and bring Geneseo the pride of involvement in a national project. McLean said that one of his goals in beginning the project was "to give students a really good research experience on a real-world project that has some pretty significant meaning … it also helps to get Geneseo's name out there."

What's next for Geneseo in Armor Dynamic's research plans? "I'm hoping that we'll be working on it for a couple more years," McLean said. "I really want to really get to where [the research] is even more helpful than it is at this point."