What is the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies?
The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies is a team of MIT, Army and industry partners working together to discover and field technologies that dramatically advance Soldier protection and survivability capabilities. Team members collaborate on basic research to create new materials, devices, processes and systems, and on applied research to transition promising results toward practical products useful to the Soldier. Army members of Team ISN also give guidance on Soldier protection and survivability needs, and the relevancy of research proposed to address these needs. Army and industry partners share their expertise on how to convert promising outcomes of fundamental research into practical products that work in harmony with other Soldier technologies, and which can be manufactured affordably in the quantities needed by our Soldiers. Moreover, these collaborations help identify dual-use applications for ISN-derived technologies for firefighters, police officers, other first responders, and, indeed, the civilian community at large.
Founded in 2002, the ISN is a result of the Army’s vision to explore the potential power of nanotechnology to enable unprecedented advances in capabilities for Soldier protection and survivability. To capitalize on this opportunity, the Army decided to create the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies as a university center for basic research on nanotechnology. This center would collaborate with the Army and industry to transition promising basic research results. A team of MIT faculty and administrators proposed and competed to host the ISN. On March 12, 2002, the Army announced that it had selected MIT. The official opening ceremony of the ISN was held on May 22, 2003.
The ISN Mission is to help the Army dramatically improve the protection and survivability of the Soldier by working at and extending the frontiers of nanotechnology through fundamental research and transitioning with our Army and industry partners by combining high-tech protection and survivability capabilities with low weight and increased comfort. This Mission includes not only decreasing the weight that Soldiers carry but also improving blast and ballistic protection, creating new methods of detecting and detoxifying chemical and biological analytes, providing physiological monitoring and automated medical intervention, and enhancing situational awareness.
Nanotechnology as the foundation for ISN research provides unique opportunities for Soldier protection. In particular, nanotechnology harnesses the size dependence of physical and chemical phenomena at tiny length scales, e.g., below a few hundred nanometers (nm) and often shorter than 20 nm. These sizes are truly minute — the diameter of a single human hair is roughly 80,000 nm. This size-related behavior opens up potentially paradigm shifting opportunities to infuse materials and devices with unique electrical, optical, magnetic, thermal, mechanical, and chemical properties. Nano-scale materials and devices, either directly or as components of larger products, allow designers to provide multiple capabilities in tiny, lightweight building blocks. Therefore, nanotechnology is ideally suited to enhance functionality at reduced weight, a key driver of the ISN’s Mission. ISN researchers have demonstrated that a wide variety of nanomaterials can be synthesized and integrated into prototype devices and fabrics. Theoretical and computational efforts at the ISN complement experimental research programs in materials synthesis and integration in order to understand and optimize material properties. Moreover, nanotechnology is inherently interdisciplinary, bringing together areas of science that are historically very different and allowing innovators to capitalize on the unique features of each. For example, ISN scientists are combining the traditionally low cost and high production volumes of textiles manufacturing with the exquisitely customized electronic properties typically achieved via the expensive processing of semi-conductors. The potential impact is unique optoelectronic fibers for full-body coverage of the Soldier, buildings, and vehicles to detect heat, light and sound, all of which could be made possible by the ability to produce these fibers at the speeds, costs, and quantities expected from mass production of textile fibers.