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Consortium partnered with US Army Research Lab completes 10-year program to advance armor materials

The Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments Collaborative Research Alliance, or MEDE CRA, culminated its 10-year program with a virtual capstone event, co-hosted by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Victor Nakano, Johns Hopkins University, reports.
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Soldiers with 10th Mountain Division at Ft. Drum surveys an obstacle during a human factor evaluation on the Modular Scalable Vest Gen II with PEO Soldier Oct. 29, 2019. (Picture source: U.S. Army/David Jordan)

More than 180 people participated in the event, including principal investigators, students from consortium universities, Army researchers and industry partners. Representatives from U.S. Army Futures Command, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, Office of Naval Research, National Ground Intelligence Center, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and other DEVCOM subordinate organizations participated as well.

The alliance is a basic research program led by Johns Hopkins University, which includes a consortium of 25 university and research partners located in 13 states and three foreign countries. MEDE has developed a materials-by-design strategy, which has resulted in innovative protection materials and computational design codes for armor applications. These new concepts will support the Soldier Lethality and Next-Generation Combat Vehicle modernization priorities. According to DEVCOM ARL Director Dr. Patrick Baker, MEDE successfully achieved its mission by focusing on the three key elements of a basic research program: relevance, team, and science.

Maj. Gen. Edmond “Miles” Brown, DEVCOM commanding general, highlighted the capstone with a keynote address. He described a multinational force that was attacked while on patrol during a deployment to Afghanistan. The body armor they wore provided the necessary protection to survive the attack and make it back home safely. Additionally, Brown described the evolution of body armor from the time he entered the U.S. Army to the present day, and the importance of basic research programs like the MEDE CRA.

Sen. Ben Cardin and Sen. Christopher Van Hollen of Maryland expressed their congratulations to the MEDE CRA. Cardin noted that MEDE has graduated 76 Ph.D. students and transitioned 55 postdoctoral fellows. More than 200 undergraduates participated in research activities; 62 of whom were from HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. This highlights the program’s real dedication to inclusivity and diversity, he said. Van Hollen added that MEDE will help save American lives and keep troops safer for years to come.

Officials said a hallmark of the MEDE CRA is its impact on workforce development. Including the university faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows, and DEVCOM ARL researchers, over 600 individuals have been involved in the MEDE research. These individuals include high school and undergraduate student apprentices sponsored through DEVCOM’s Army Educational Outreach Program, and the Army Research Office’s partnered research initiative for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. The MEDE CRA ensured these valuable opportunities were incorporated into the core research program.

Prof. Lori Graham-Brady of Johns Hopkins and Dr. Sikhanda Satapathy, DEVCOM ARL, presented the numerous accomplishments of the MEDE CRA. According to Satapathy, the goal of the program was to look at the materials or different material classes at different scales, starting from the atomistic scale to the application scale. To achieve this, the MEDE program developed a rigorous mechanism-driven materials-by-design strategy that resulted in new magnesium alloys, boron carbide, and glass-epoxy composites.

In each material, MEDE was able to achieve a weight reduction and improved performance. These discoveries were translated into computational design codes which assisted in validating the experimental data. Industry partners were able to scale up the laboratory-produced materials for ballistic evaluation at DEVCOM ARL.

Graham-Brady said by improving these armor materials, they will have a real impact on keeping people safe, which, she said, motivated much of the research.

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MEDE materials display at Capitol Hill event. (Picture source: Will Kirk)


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