Researchers from USC, the University of California, San Diego and the California Institute of Technology created a new material that can withstand heavy impacts without deforming. In fact, it doesn’t fracture when pushed beyond its elastic limits, instead retaining most of its original strength.

The material, which was produced by heating a powdered iron composite up to exactly 1166°F (630°C) before rapidly cooling it, could be used in applications from body armor for soldiers to meteor-resistant casings for satellites. SAM2X5-630 has the highest impact resistance of any bulk metallic glass, say its creators. The class of materials has disproportionate strength, resilience and elasticity because of their unusual chemical structure.

According to the research team, what makes SAM2X5-630 special is that it is not entirely a glass — just mostly. The exact timing and temperatures used to create it cause the hard yet elastic material to form. The same iron composite heated and cooled slightly differently yields a completely random atomic arrangement that lacks the elastic properties, they say.

The team produces it via a spark-plasma sintering process. The iron compound is powdered, placed in a dye and then a current is induced. The process superheats the iron compound powder to the point of binding without ever liquefying it.

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