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Maltese researchers develop foam that 'can save lives'

Auxetic foams can easily form dome-shaped surfaces, thus being ideal to line crash helmets and kneepads. Photo shows a model of an auxetic foam forming this doming effect.

Auxetic foams can easily form dome-shaped surfaces, thus being ideal to line crash helmets and kneepads. Photo shows a model of an auxetic foam forming this doming effect.

A group of Maltese researchers has developed an innovative protective foam that "could make the difference between life and death should one be involved in a traffic accident", according to Joseph Grima from the University of Malta, who led the research team.

The initiative has been prominently featured on the front cover of the July 2009 issue of the prestigious scientific journal Advanced Engineering Materials.

The team developed a new way of manufacturing high value-added auxetic foams from ordinary, cheaply available, conventional foam. The new foams are harder to indent on impact and provide extra support during sudden collisions. This makes them especially suitable to use in car seats and protective equipment such as crash helmets, knee and elbow pads, as well as for packaging purposes.

The foams show a natural tendency to adopt a dome shape configuration, allowing them to fit curvatures in a more versatile way. They also have an unusual property of getting fatter when stretched, rather than thinner.

Prof. Grima's team of researchers includes co-workers Daphne Attard, Ruben Gatt, and Richard Cassar from the University's Department of Chemistry.

Other scientists and engineers working on this project include Brian Ellul, Elaine Manicaro and Elaine Chetcuti from the University, and Tristan Debono and Alexander Galea from Methode Electronics (Malta) Ltd.

The researchers' work was made possible by a research grant awarded to the University and Methode by the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) through its National Research, Technological Development and Innovation (RTDI) programme, and by a Malta government scholarship awarded to Ms Attard.

University rector Juanito Camilleri said: "The research being conducted by Prof. Grima's team is outstanding and ought to be followed through with further funding to allow the University and its industry partners to seek concrete ways of exploiting these materials in commercial applications."

MCST chairman Nicholas Sammut added: "The work Prof. Grima and his team are doing is an excellent example of the potential of Maltese researchers. The project emphasises new manufacturing methods for the production of this high value-added product and hence may eventually become a niche technology that is researched, developed and made in Malta."

For further information view: http://home.um.edu.mt/auxetic/press/ www.auxetic.info.

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