- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will soon create uniforms that will shield U.S. soldiers from bullets and poison gas, heal wounds and allow them to leap over 20-foot walls.
MIT won a U.S. Army competition for a $50 million contract to develop an Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, where the uniforms will be created within the next five years. A total of 100 students and 35 professors from MIT's schools of engineering, science and architecture and planning will begin the project next month.
"Our goal is to greatly enhance the protection and survival of the infantry soldier," said Ned Thomas, an engineering professor who also is the director of the new institute.
The institute will focus on six key soldier capabilities: threat detection, threat neutralization (bulletproof clothing), concealment, enhanced human performance, real-time automated medical treatment, and reduced logistical footprint (lightening the load of a fully equipped soldier).
The institute's goal is to reduce the weight of a soldier's equipment from 145 pounds to 45 pounds the amount of weight carried by warriors in Roman times.
"If we can provide our soldiers with more resources, more protection, with half the weight, that would be a huge step forward for us," said Capt. Amy Hannah, an Army spokesman.
The new uniforms will be made out of lightweight molecular materials that make the clothing as hard as metal to help repel bullets; act as a cast when a soldier breaks a leg; alert soldiers to the presence of poison gases or biological agents; apply medicine to wounds; and transmit soldiers' locations to a command post.
The uniforms will change color to imitate the outside environment, making the soldiers nearly invisible to the enemy. The uniforms will also include spring-loaded combat boots that will let soldiers leap over 20-foot walls.
"Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armor and endowed with superhuman capabilities," Mr. Thomas said.
The institute will work with defense industry giants including DuPont and Raytheon, which will team up with the Army Natrick Soldier Center, and the Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Md., to integrate sensors into the fabric of soldiers' uniforms.
Lt. Col. Brian L. Baker, commander of MIT's Army ROTC program, said technology was used in the past "to take the man out of the loop." "Here you're applying the school's greatest strengths to helping the man or woman him- or herself," he said.
The university is also developing a way to recover and distill a soldier's sweat, to use for drinking water, through the uniform, a possibility imagined in the 1965 science-fiction novel "Dune," by Frank Herbert.
"Our government decided that it needs new technologies for the soldiers," said MIT professor Timothy Swager. "What made us win was our strong background. We had many good ideas and a very proven track record in all the key areas that the Army needs."
MIT has a history of helping the Army improve its technology. In World War II, the school's Radiation Laboratory developed radar that warned troops of incoming aircraft. During the Cold War, the school's Instrumentation Laboratory developed guidance systems for missiles.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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