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Navy researches use of transparent material as armor

A mined mineral that can be formed into transparent sheeting is being investigated by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory for possible military use.

By Richard Tomkins
The U.S. Navy is researching uses of spinel, a mined mineral that can be produced in transparent sheets, Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
The U.S. Navy is researching uses of spinel, a mined mineral that can be produced in transparent sheets, Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

WASHINGTON, July 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is working to improve a transparent material for use as bullet-proof windows and for military optics.

The material is called spinel.

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"Spinel is actually a mineral; it's magnesium aluminate," said Dr. Jas Sanghera, the researcher leading the NRL project. "The advantage is it's so much tougher, stronger, and harder than glass. It provides better protection in more hostile environments -- so it can withstand sand and rain erosion.

"For weight-sensitive platforms-UAVs, head-mounted face shields -- it's a game-changing technology."

The NRL said it developed a low-temperature process, called sintering, that uses a hot press to mold the mined material into transparent sheets. Using shaped presses, the spinel can be made into multiple shapes, such as a wing for an unmanned aerial vehicle.

"You put the powder in (a hot press), you press it under vacuum, squash this powder together -- and if you can do that right, then you can get rid of all the entrapped air, and all of a sudden it comes out of there clear-looking," Sanghera said.

The NRL said Spinel can be ground and polished, like gems, to increase optic quality and allows infrared light to pass through it, which makes it optimal for military imaging systems.

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Additional uses for spinel are being investigated.

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