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Lawrence Tech wins $1.6 million federal grant to develop new armor for military vehicles

Release Date: December 22, 2009

Southfield, Mich. - Lawrence Technological University has been awarded a $1.6 million federal grant to develop and test stronger and lighter armor made of composite materials for military vehicles. The funding is included in the 2010 defense appropriations legislation signed into law Monday by President Barack Obama.

The work will be performed at Lawrence Tech's Center for Innovative Materials Research (CIMR) in conjunction with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren and the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) headquartered in Adelphi, Md. The goal is to develop vehicle armor that is superior in design, weight and durability to the vehicle armor currently used by the military.

The funding was included in the 2010 military appropriations bill at the request of Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI). "This award recognizes Lawrence Tech's expertise in lightweight composite materials," Levin said. "The funding will help develop lighter, stronger vehicle armor that is needed to protect our troops in the field.  It's an important investment in cutting-edge technology here in Michigan."  

The research project will be led by University Distinguished Professor Nabil Grace, the director of CIMR who will also move from chair of Lawrence Tech's Department of Civil Engineering to interim dean of the College of Engineering in January.

Grace is best known for his research on extending the lifespan and reducing the maintenance costs of bridges by replacing steel components with noncorrosive carbon, glass and aramid fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP, GFRP, AFRP) materials and other advanced composites. In the past 10 years he has won more than 30 research grants and contracts totaling more than $20 million.

Several years ago Grace began investigating military applications for reinforced polymer materials. Recently he received a provisional patent for multilayer armor and filed a patent application for composite armor structure for military tanks. He has been working with TARDEC to design, test and evaluate advanced carbon fiber materials that can reduce the weight of military vehicles and body armor while providing greater protection and durability.

"New armor materials, including composites, need to be tested and a standard specification established to facilitate acquisition requirements," said Lawrence Tech President Lewis N. Walker. "We believe that the facilities and expertise available through CIMR can be developed and provide such a path for the U.S. Army."

Lawrence Tech opened CIMR in 2006 with the help of a five-year, $11 million cooperative agreement involving both TARDEC and ARL to provide research with military applications. The $3.2 million building has a 30-foot clearance height and a 25,000-pound crane to accommodate testing of full-scale structural components, such as portable battlefield bridges, up to 100 feet long. Researchers can subject structures to loads up to one million pounds. Additionally, a fire/loading chamber can reach temperatures of  2,300°F, enough to simulate conditions created by the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

A full-scale environmental chamber that can simulate harsh weather conditions has just been added at CIMR. This unique new test chamber will enable full- and partial-scale vehicle and composite armor testing under harsh conditions duplicating windblown rain, salt spray, solar/UV light, high humidity and sand storm conditions, in addition to freezing, thawing and dry heat.

"CIMR has the testing facilities needed to ensure that vehicle components made from composite materials will stand up in the harshest conditions," Grace said. "We hope to develop lightweight armor that will save the lives of our soldiers while also improving the functionality and fuel efficiency of the military vehicles they depend on."

Lawrence Technological University,, offers nearly 100 undergraduate, master's and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management. Founded in 1932, the 4,500-student, private university pioneered evening classes and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech's 102-acre campus is in Southfield, and programs are also offered in Detroit, Lansing, Petoskey and Traverse City. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.