NC State professor develops impenetrable foam with life-saving potential

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina State University professor Dr. Afsaneh Rabiei knew during the war in Iraq she could develop a technology that would save lives.

“When I saw that soldiers are wounded or lose lives, I keep telling everybody I know this is going to help. But, at that time, we had not tested the technology,” Rabiei said.

It’s something strong, but lightweight. It’s porous enough to absorb a tremendous amount of energy. It took more than a decade, but Rabiei is able to show the result of her work.

“Porous metal has not been used enough and it’s time to bring this to the consumers,” Rabiei said. “And, to use the structure that is light and at the same time can perform better.”

In basic terms, it’s almost like a bubble wrap used to protect glass, but on steroids. It’s at least 70 percent lighter than the same amount of metal.

Rabiei named her invention “metal foam.” It’s filled with tiny spheres that compress on impact to protect what’s on the other side — like when someone in a vehicle is hit with armor-piercing ammunition. That includes a recent test on a highly explosive incendiary that can travel at about 5,000 feet per second.

“We put our material in front of it to see how the material can absorb the fragments and blast weight,” Rabiei said. “It went very well.”

Much of the research is done at N.C. State where Rabiei teaches. An agreement with the US Department of Defense means the process used to make metal foam is top secret. But, it goes far beyond the military — it could be used in vehicles, trains, nuclear power plants, space travel, and construction.

“If one person walks out of a deadly accident because of the technology that we develop here, that would really make my life worth living. So it’s very important for me to see this technology go out and people use it and save lives” Rabiei said.

Click here to read Rabiei’s research paper on her metal foam.

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