New research that sheds unprecedented light on the behaviour of blasts produced by landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) could aid the development of enhanced protection for UK soldiers on military, peace-keeping and humanitarian missions.
By focusing on explosives hidden in clay soils, the University of Sheffield project - funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) - has addressed a vital gap in knowledge about how buried explosives interact with their surrounding environment. This is a key factor in determining the pattern and extent of the pressure produced by an explosion.
The project was part of a wider ongoing initiative - the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory's (Dstl's) programme to understand the effects of IEDs and land mines on armoured vehicles. As well as helping to inform future designs of armoured vehicles, the data produced by the project will aid risk assessment and route planning for operations in current and future combat zones.
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:
British scientific breakthroughs have saved the lives of millions and we will continue to invest in our scientists as they conduct such game-changing research. The potential for this research to provide better protection for British soldiers and humanitarian workers who risk their lives every day, underscores precisely why we continue to support UK science.
Dr Sam Clarke, who led the EPSRC-funded project, says:
Detonations of explosives in shallow soils are extremely complex events that involve the interaction of the shock waves with the surrounding soil, air and water. The understanding we've generated about how clay soils affect the process is a key piece in the jigsaw, as it complements the extensive knowledge that's already been built up about explosions in sandy and gravelly soils, which are much less cohesive than clay soils.
Using the University of Sheffield's unique Explosives Arena, Dr Clarke and his team carried out around 250 test explosions using different soil samples and made 17 different pressure measurements during each test. The results were backed up and verified by numerical modelling developed and applied as part of an EPSRC CASE (Collaborative Award in Science and Engineering) Studentship.
The research has revealed how the blast produced by a landmine or IED would interact, for instance, with anti-mine body armour or an armoured plate fixed underneath a troop transport vehicle.
Hundreds of UK service personnel have been killed or injured by IEDs in recent years, while landmines in former warzones worldwide continue to cause thousands of deaths every year. In the face of dangers like these, there is a constant drive to keep improving the capabilities of vehicle armour, personal armour and protective footwear, and this can be aided by a clearer understanding about how explosions actually behave.
Dr Clarke comments:
The new data we've generated about the distribution of blast loading in clay soils will feed directly into Dstl's world-class work harnessing the latest science and technology to help protect UK troops and ensure they can operate even more effectively in future.
The data and understanding arising from this EPSRC-funded research could ultimately improve safety for troops, says Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of EPSRC.
Examples of the test explosions carried out as part of the EPSRC-funded project are available on YouTube (and also embedded on this page).
Notes for Editors:
The two-year research project Understanding the Role of Soil in Subsurface Explosive Events ran from January 2014 to January 2016 and received total EPSRC funding of just over £100,000.
As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, the vision of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.
By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture.
We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via UK Research and Innovation.
The University of Sheffield, with almost 26,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries learning alongside over 1200 of the best academics from across the globe, is one of the world's leading universities. A member of the UK's prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in. In 2014 it was voted the number one university in the UK for Student Experience by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields. Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) maximises the impact of science and technology (S&T) for the defence and security of the UK, supplying sensitive and specialist S&T services for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and wider government.
Dstl is an Executive Agency of the MOD, run along commercial lines. It is one of the principal government organisations dedicated to S&T in the defence and security field, with three main sites at Porton Down, near Salisbury, Portsdown West, near Portsmouth, and Fort Halstead, near Sevenoaks.
Dstl works with a wide range of partners and suppliers in industry, in academia and overseas. Around 60% of MOD's Science and Technology Programme is delivered by these external partners and suppliers.
Reference: PN 14-16