Stirling expert part of team that has developed the world’s first “non-cuttable” material

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A University of Stirling academic is part of a team that has developed the world’s first “non-cuttable” material – which could be used to make items such as bike locks, armour and security doors.

Dr Miranda Anderson, an Anniversary Fellow in Philosophy, is a co-author on a new paper which details the benefits of the innovative creation, inspired by nature and named after a Greek god.

Based on the structure of grapefruit peel and abalone shells, ‘Proteus’ consists of ceramic spheres embedded in a cellular aluminium foam – which angle grinders, power drills or water jet cutters were unable to cut through. For example, an angle grinder that took only 45 seconds to cut through an armoured steel plate, was left inoperative by Proteus.

Dr Anderson became involved in the project after meeting Principal Investigator, Dr Stefan Szyniszewski, of Durham University’s Department of Engineering, while working in Japan.

Dr Miranda Anderson
Proteus is designed on natural materials – the light but tough, cellular skin of the grapefruit and the fracture-resistant shells of molluscs – it's inspiration by nature and its name reflect the ideas of renowned philosopher Francis Bacon.
Dr Miranda Anderson Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Dr Anderson has played an important role in the conceptualising of Proteus. She said: “It has been exciting to be involved in this project and the development of Proteus.

“Proteus is designed on natural materials – the light but tough, cellular skin of the grapefruit and the fracture-resistant shells of molluscs – it's inspiration by nature and its name reflect the ideas of renowned philosopher Francis Bacon. In 1605, he compared natural materials to the Greek god Proteus who ‘ever changed shapes’ and he argued that, through experimentation, we can reveal the metamorphic qualities of materials, and so advance knowledge. That’s why we named the material Proteus.”

When cut with an angle grinder or drill, the interlocking vibrational connection created by the ceramic spheres inside the casing turns the destructive force back on itself – blunting the cutting disc or drill bit. The ceramics also fragment into fine particles, which fill the cellular structure of the material and harden as the speed of the cutting tool is increased. So the adaptive nature of the material further repulses any attack.

The team believe Proteus could be used to make bike locks, lightweight armour and protective equipment for people who work with cutting tools.

The project – funded by the UK Home Office, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and a European Commission Career Integration Grant – also involved: Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU; Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut; and Leibniz University Hannover, Institute of Plastics and Circular Economy IKK (all Germany); and the University of Surrey.

The paper, Non-cuttable material created through local resonance and strain rate effects, is published in Scientific Reports.

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