Nanotechnology as the foundation for ISN research provides unique opportunities for Soldier protection. In particular, nanotechnology harnesses the size dependence of physical and chemical phenomena at tiny length scales, e.g., below a few hundred nanometers (nm) and often shorter than 20 nm.
These sizes are truly minute — the diameter of a single human hair is roughly 80,000 nm. This size-related behavior opens up potentially paradigm shifting opportunities to infuse materials and devices with unique electrical, optical, magnetic, thermal, mechanical, and chemical properties. Nano-scale materials and devices, either directly or as components of larger products, allow designers to provide multiple capabilities in tiny, lightweight building blocks. Therefore, nanotechnology is ideally suited to enhance functionality at reduced weight, a key driver of the ISN’s Mission. ISN researchers have demonstrated that a wide variety of nanomaterials can be synthesized and integrated into prototype devices and fabrics.
Theoretical and computational efforts at the ISN complement experimental research programs in materials synthesis and integration in order to understand and optimize material properties. Moreover, nanotechnology is inherently interdisciplinary, bringing together areas of science that are historically very different and allowing innovators to capitalize on the unique features of each. For example, ISN scientists are combining the traditionally low cost and high production volumes of textiles manufacturing with the exquisitely customized electronic properties typically achieved via the expensive processing of semi-conductors. The potential impact is unique optoelectronic fibers for full-body coverage of the Soldier, buildings, and vehicles to detect heat, light and sound, all of which could be made possible by the ability to produce these fibers at the speeds, costs, and quantities expected from mass production of textile fibers.