The US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed a new way of producing a special ceramic, called spinel, which can be used in applications such as high-energy laser windows and lightweight armour.
Spinel is superior to the glass, sapphire, and other materials and is more durable and delivers better performance.
NRL research lead Dr Jas Sanghera said: "Spinel is actually a mineral, its magnesium aluminate. The advantage is it’s so much tougher, stronger, harder than glass.
"It provides better protection in more hostile environments, so it can withstand sand and rain erosion."
The laboratory has now developed a new method to create spinel, using a hot press, called sintering, which is a low-temperature process, and the size of the pieces is limited only by the size of the press.
Researchers have developed the spinel pieces with eight-inches in diameter. Sanghera added that NRL has licenced the technology to a company who was then able to scale that up to much larger plates, about 30in wide.
NRL is also seeking to explore the use of spinel for windows on lasers operating in maritime and other hostile environments.
Sanghera said: "I’ve got to worry about wave slap and saltwater and things like that, and gun blasts going off — it’s got to be resistant to all that. And so that’s where spinel comes into its own."
The military could use spinel as transparent armour for vehicles and face shields. Moreover, it can be used to better protect visible and infrared cameras on planes and other platforms.
Sanghera added: "Everything we do, we’re trying to push the mission. It’s designed to either enable a new application, a new capability, or enhance an existing one."
Image: NRL lead researcher Dr. Jas Sanghera along with colleagues, who invented a new way of making transparent spinel. Photo: courtesy of US Naval Research Laboratory /Jamie Hartman.