The US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) is to develop ‘second skin’ chemical-biological protection for soldiers.

NSRDEC has collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), the Air Force Civil Engineering Center and the US Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, to develop the next-generation of protection.

Funding for the project has been provided by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

NSRDEC research bioengineer Dr Paola D’Angelo said: "The second skin will be a protective ‘skin’ engineered with textile materials as a substrate that will adapt to the environment that the soldier is in."

The new protection is being developed to enhance safety, and act autonomously without soldier intervention.

The technology will be integrated into one thin layer, which will reduce the logistical burden for soldiers.

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NSRDEC soldier nanomaterials senior research scientist Dr Ramanathan Nagarajan said: "The material design is based on the use of responsive polymer gels, including organohydrogels and functional chemical species such as catalysts.

"The second skin will be able to sense chemical and biological agents, which will trigger a response within the gels."

"The second skin will be able to sense chemical and biological agents, which will trigger a response within the gels."

According to Nagarajan, collaborators from the Air Force Civil Engineering Center are developing catalyst particles to counter mustard agents on the second skin’s surface.

The MIT collaborators are developing polymers to sense and deactivate anthrax spores on the surface.

The MIT and UCSB are working together to develop hydrogels and organohydrogels, which will protect the second-skin interior from nerve agents and blister agents.

Image: The new technology will be incorporated into one thin layer of protective fabric and will block and deactivate a number of threats. Photo: courtesy of The US Army.