If there is one lesson to glean from Picatinny Arsenal‘s new course in nanomaterials, it’s this: never underestimate the power of small. Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic, molecular, or supermolecular scale. The end result can be found in our everyday products, such as stained glass, sunscreen, cellphones, and pharmaceutical products. Other examples are in U.S. Army items such as vehicle armor, Soldier uniforms, power sources, and weaponry. All living things also can be considered united forms of nanotechnology produced by the forces of nature.
3-dimensional tomography generated imaging of pores within a nanoRDEX-based explosive
“People tend to think that nanotechnology is all about these little robots roaming around, fixing the environment or repairing damage to your body, and for many reasons that’s just unrealistic,” said Rajen Patel, a senior engineer within the Energetics and Warheads Manufacturing Technology Division, or EWMTD. The division is part of the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center or ARDEC. “For me, nanotechnology means getting materials to have these properties that you wouldn’t expect them to have.”
The subject can be separated into multiple types (nanomedicine, nanomachines, nanoelectronics, nanocomposites, nanophotonics and more), which can benefit areas, such as communications, medicine, environment remediation, and manufacturing. Nanomaterials are defined as materials that have at least one dimension in the 1-100 nm range (there are 25,400,000 nanometers in one inch.) To provide some size perspective: comparing a nanometer to a meter is like comparing a soccer ball to the earth.
Picatinny‘s nanomaterials class focuses on nanomaterials‘ distinguishing qualities, such as their optical, electronic, thermal and mechanical properties–and teaches how manipulating them in a weapon can benefit the warfighter. While you could learn similar information at a college course, Patel argues that Picatinny‘s nanomaterial class is nothing like a university class. This is because Picatinny‘s nanomaterials class focuses on applied, rather than theoretical nanotechnology, using the arsenal as its main source of examples. “We talk about things like what kind of properties you get, how to make materials, places you might expect to see nanotechnology within the Army,” explained Patel. The class is taught at the Armament University.
In 2010, an article in The Picatinny Voice titled “Tiny particles, big impact: Nanotechnology to help warfighters” discussed Picatinny’s ongoing research on nanopowders. It noted that Picatinny‘s Nanotechnology Lab is the largest facility in North America to produce nanopowders and nanomaterials, which are used to create nanoexplosives. It also mentioned how using nanomaterials helped to develop lightweight composites as an alternative to traditional steel.
“Not too long ago making milligram quantities of nanoexplosives was challenging. Now, we have technologies that allow us make pounds of nanoexplosives per hour at low cost“. Pilot scale production of nanoexplosives is currently being performed at ARDEC. The broad interest in developing nanoenergetics such as nano-RDX and nano-HMX is their remarkably low initiation sensitivity. There are two basic approaches to studying nanomaterials: bottom-up (building a large object atom by atom) and top-down (deconstructing a larger material). Both approaches have been successfully employed in the development of nanoenergetics at ARDEC. One of the challenges with manufacturing nonmaterials can be coping with shockwaves. A shockwave initiates an explosive as it travels through a weapon‘s main fill or the booster. When a shockwave travels through an energetic charge, it can hit small regions of defects, or voids, which heat up quickly and build pressure until the explosive reaches detonation. By using nanoenergetics, one could adjust the size and quantity of the defects and voids, so that the pressure isn’t as strong and ultimately prevent accidental detonation.
“It’s a major production challenge because if you want to process nanomaterials–if you want to coat it with some polymer for explosives–any kind of medium that can dissolve these types of materials can promote ripening and you can end up with a product which no longer has the nanomaterial that you began with,” However, nanotechnology research continues to grow at Picatinny as the research advances in the U.S. Army.