Chitin is found in the cellular walls of many organisms, but it is most famous for making up the exoskeletons of arthropods like crustaceans and insects. It is incredibly effective in protecting these species, so researchers are diving deeper into how it could be adapted to protect humans as well.
Researchers from the University of Houston are studying how chitin could be synthesized into a bio-based, biodegradable, high-impact coating. They are operating under a grant from the US Department of Defense and hope to develop a printed coating that can protect against projectile impacts, but also lasers, microbes, and poison gas.
Chitin is composed of a long-chain polymer structure held together by acetyl groups, but when the acetyl groups are removed, it becomes the more pliable chitosan, which has wide applications from medicine to agriculture due to its malleable nature.
The team is using chitosan to 3D print multiple layered materials with specific functions at each layer including hard impact-resistance, energy-absorption, toxic gas absorption, and a textile layer for adhesion.
Although initially designed for military applications, the team says the technology could potentially have wide-ranging benefits for all industries where protective equipment is required. This means employees from automotive to construction industries could soon be protected by innovative shrimp suits.