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World's first manufactured non-cuttable material, inspired by nature

27 July 2020

Inspired by nature, University of Durham engineers have created what they say is the first manufactured non-cuttable material.

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The material – called Proteus after the shape-changing mythical god – is made from alumina ceramic spheres encased in a cellular aluminium, metallic foam structure and works by turning back the force of a cutting tool on itself.

The idea came from the tough cellular skin of a grapefruit and the fracture resistant shells of the abalone sea creature. 

The engineers tried cutting Proteus with angles grinders, drills and high-pressure waters jets, but to no avail. The interlocking vibrational connection created by the ceramic spheres inside the casing blunted the cutting disc/drill bit. The ceramics also fragment into fine particles, which fill the cellular structure of the material and harden as the speed of the cutting tool is increased.

The engineers say that cutting the material is like cutting through a jelly filled with nuggets – once you get through the jelly, you hit the nuggets and the material vibrates in such a way it destroys the cutting tool. Water jets are also ineffective because the curved surfaces of the ceramic spheres widen the jet to substantially reduces its speed and weaken its cutting capacity.

Proteus could be used to make bike locks, lightweight armour and in protective equipment for people who work with cutting tools.

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