Air Force Academy Cadet Invents Goo That Can Literally Stop Bullets

Gear

There are a lot of ways to stop a bullet. Feet of concrete work. A few dozen pounds of steel work, too. Modern fibers like Kevlar work, if you have enough.


But a senior cadet at the Air Force Academy may have come up with something better: A thin coating of gravy.

It's a special gravy, to be sure. But it's not that different from the cornstarch-thickened substance best served over breakfast biscuits.

And it would stop Dirty Harry's .44 caliber magnum as a snack.

Yet it's flexible enough to bullet-proof, ahem, intimate areas.

"Like Under Armour, for real," explained cadet Hayley Weir, a Highlands Ranch native who has applied for a patent on her spicy recipe.

Weir, who graduates from the academy this month, is an academy chemistry department dropout who came up with the idea in class.

A professor had asked cadets to think up ways to stop a pistol bullet. She thought of a child's toy called Oobleck, which has a really scientific second name: a non-Newtonian fluid.

Those fluids, made with substances like cornstarch, are gooey and oozy to a gentle touch, but become as hard as steel when struck.

That means when a object traveling with a lot of force strikes the goo, it runs into something like Superman's chest.

Weir has a collection of mushroom-shaped spent bullets to prove it.

Weir's idea gained traction last year when she partnered with academy military and strategic studies professor Ryan Burke, an ex-Marine.

Burke's Marine Corps experience told him that Weir had stumbled on to something important.

"It's going to make a difference for Marines in the field," he said.

Burke called some Marine Corps contacts who shipped materials to test the new bullet-stopping stuff.

In an academy lab, Weir mixes up batches of her secret formula, a viscous black goo. She says it's less like science and more like baking a cake.

"I use a KitchenAid mixer," she explained.

The substance is put in vacuum-seal bags normally used for leftovers and flattened into an quarter-inch layer.

That is layered into a wafer with Kevlar fabric.

"It's all about the layering," Weir said.

The result was first tested on a gun range in Jack's Valley, the training area on the northern edge of the 18,500-acre academy campus.

Weir and Burke hit the armor with shot after shot of 9 mm fire. The goo stopped the bullets.

A firearms instructor offered up a .44-caliber pistol round for a tougher test. The .44 magnum bullet, legendary in firearms circles, has been used to successfully hunt elephants.

Despite the increased weight of the bullet and its higher velocity, the gooey armor worked better.

What happened is part of the magic of gravy: When impacted the molecules in the gooey substance jam together. The bigger the impact, the bigger the molecular traffic jam and the better the ability to resist penetration.

That means that Weir's goo has the potential to replace steel plate as armor.

"It's the properties of non-Newtonian fluids that do this," she said.

Having a cadet come up with ground-breaking ideas is nothing new at the academy, which prides itself on having the best undergraduate research programs on the planet. Cadets have designed satellites and airplanes. They've also worked on making diesel fuel from algae, tiny hydrogen fuel cells and new molecules that could clean up chemical weapons.

Weir's experiments have captured the imaginations of some of the Air Force's top scientists.

Weir and Burke recently traveled to the Air Force Civil Engineer Center in Florida to demonstrate their invention. It worked as well there as it had at the academy.

The center took to its website to laud the invention, calling it "incredible."

"We're very pleased," Dr. Jeff Owens, senior research chemist, said in a statment. "We now understand more about what the important variables are, so now we're going to go back and pick all the variables apart, optimize each one and see if we can get up to a higher level of protection."

The flexibility of Weirs weird armor has researchers thinking big.

Wafering the stuff into fabric could lead to tents resistant to mortar and artillery fire.

Weaving it into a blanket could giver firefighters and cops protection when they work to pull people out of mass-shooting scenes.

On the battlefield, it could drive body army that actually protects the entire body - rather than the torso protection now given to troops overseas.

Weir is hoping to continue her research after graduation this month. She hopes her gravy saves lives.

But her invention hasn't gone to her head.

"I don't feel like I am that much smarter than the average person," she said,

———

©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Air Force photo
Ryan Kules

Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.

On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.

Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.

Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.

Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.

"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."

While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.

"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.

Read More Show Less
(Courtesy of Roman Sabal)

A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.

Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.

Read More Show Less
Jeff Schogol

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.

Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.

Read More Show Less