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Researchers from the University of Victoria have developed a new material additive as part of a $1.5-million body armour project.

The body armour, called COMFORTS (Comfort-Optimized Materials for Operational Resilience, Thermal-transport and Survivability) is a three-year Department of National Defence-funded research project that hopes to make flexible, breathable, ballistic-resistant armour for soldiers.

Eleven researchers from UVic are working on the project alongside researchers from the University of British Columbia Okanagan and the University of Alberta.

One UVic researcher, a synthetic chemist named Jeremy Wulff, recently spoke with the university on the contributions that the UVic team has been making to the project.

"We dress in layers to protect ourselves from extreme elements," said Wulff. "Using this concept of layers, we are developing the next-generation of protective wear. There’s an outer, middle and base layer. My research focuses on that middle layer where we’ve developed a lightweight, ballistic-resistant material."

Wulff's team has developed a new class of additives that can be used to make existing materials more durable.

"Our new additives allow us to form molecular bonds between the polymers that make up a fabric," said Wulff. "This process, which is called polymer cross-linking, increases the mechanical strength of the material, making it more impact-resistant."

While UVic has made breakthroughs in additives that strengthen existing materials, research for COMFORTS is shared between all three universities. UBC's Survive and Thrive Applied Research (STAR) Impact Research Facility, for instance, allows for experiments to be conducted that UVic would not be able to perform alone.

"The materials-testing resources at UBC’s STAR Impact Research Facility (SIRF) opens the door to a lot of crucial experiments that we simply can’t do in our own lab at UVic," said Wulff.

"By putting our innovative cross-linker technology together with the mechanical engineering expertise at STAR, we can really embark on some amazing projects that we’d never be able to do alone."

Besides the development of high-performance body armour, research into the COMFORTS project can potentially be applied to first responder and athletics equipment.

The material could eventually be designed to protect from extreme elements like fire, below-freezing temperatures or corrosive chemicals.

"Imagine a garment that could keep its users comfortable and safe as they explore the tundra of the Canadian arctic, fight a raging forest fire or respond to a corrosive chemical spill,” said Keith Culver, director of UBC's Survive and Thrive Applied Research (STAR) initiative in a release.

“I imagine everyone from first responders to soldiers to extreme athletes being impacted by this kind of innovation in protective clothing.”