In our world of X-games and Xtreme Eyelash Extensions and Xtreme Motorsports, the word “extreme” has been drained of its meaning somewhat. But take heed: when Johns Hopkins launches a new institute and dubs it extreme, they mean it. Just take a look at that exploding basalt cube if you don’t believe me.
I’m sure that the scientists involved with the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute (HEMI) do much more than send Pyrex spheres hurtling toward glass cubes at 2,200 mph, but, well, making things explode at high speeds is pretty much the ultimate in Extreme Science. No surprise, then, that HEMI researchers got one of the school’s biggest grants ever (like, sports-salary big: $90 million over 10 years) from the U.S. Army in order to study extreme impacts in extreme dynamic environments.
That all sounds pretty abstract, but the practical implications are clear: studying the effects of high-speed impacts on all sorts of materials will help the military develop protective armor for people, vehicles, and structures.
And if you thought it couldn’t get any more extreme, consider this: Some of the extreme situations the Institute hopes to explore include “nuclear explosions, massive volcano eruptions, and even asteroid impact.” Musing on the possible implications of HEMI’s research, engineer and head of the institute, wonders, “If an asteroid is headed for Earth, do you break it up? If so, what kind of damage will you create? Do you try to knock it off course, and will it break up when you try to do that? These are the kinds of questions we will be answering.” Extreme, to the max.
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