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Fast-Reacting Fabric: Going with the Flow

2 minute read
Helen Gibson

Pity the skateboarder who messes up on a jump and slams down on his feet or a skier who hits a slalom gate at 70 m.p.h. While better protection is the obvious answer, skaters want thin sneaker soles so they can feel their board, and skiers are reluctant to relinquish any flexibility. Enter snowboard-loving British inventors Richard Palmer and Phil Green, both 39, and their new material, d3o, which can perform a few high-speed tricks of its own. d3o’s molecules flow as an athlete moves, but on impact they bind together instantaneously to absorb shock, then unlock to become soft and elastic once again. “It’s a protective system that changes shape with you, so it doesn’t restrict you at all and by stiffening spreads the load and reduces tendency to bruising,” says Green, a materials scientist and d3o’s research director.

Managing director Palmer, an industrial designer and engineer, set up a design company focused on innovation in 1999. He became interested in dilatant materials, whose unique flowing and locking molecular bond was discovered in the ’50s. Palmer figured that if these properties could be combined with an elastic element that returned a material to its original shape after impact, you’d have a product with innumerable applications. After three years in the lab–at one time making mixes in a food blender–Green came up with d3o.

Globe uses d3o in skateboard shoes. Spyder is making a slalom suit with d3o for the U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams. Swiss company Ribcap is putting d3o into soft ski caps. d3o management is also discussing military opportunities. And as d3o becomes cheaper to produce, it could be used in cars, soundproofing and police and paramedic gear. Then there are football, baseball, rugby, polo, cricket. The prospects for d3o and its “intelligent molecules” suddenly look endless.

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