Producing the strongest material with the lightest possible weight is a perpetual goal of materials science, and Navy inventors have succeeded in making stronger, lighter foams from millions of microscopic glass bubbles.
A research team at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division (NSWC Corona) developed and tested the Amorphous Bubble Bonding (ABB) technique to effectively and efficiently produce cellular materials in a wide range of density, stiffness, and strength. The method heats hollow glass spheres—each about the diameter of a human hair—above the glass transition temperature, resulting in a viscous flow transition that can be controlled via pressure differential to expand or contract the spheres and bond them into the desired morphology.
The NSWC Corona team were largely responsible for transferring the ABB technology to a new startup company, Microsphere Material Solutions (MMS) of Rockville, Maryland, which was created specifically to transition the Navy invention to commercialization. A Patent Licensing Agreement (PLA) and a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, both signed in 2016, were designed to accelerate ABB research and push development into commercial products.
The team’s contributions to the transfer of the technology included onsite visits to MMS, the loan of crucial lab equipment to the company, monthly teleconferences, ongoing technical assistance, and coauthoring grant proposals for additional research and development (R&D) funding.
Among the unique aspects of this technology transfer was a PLA with very creative licensing terms. The agreement between NSWC Corona and MMS allowed a startup company—that was licensing a technology that still required substantial development to bring it to market—the time and financial freedom to be successful. At the same time, this PLA provided the Navy lab the opportunity to share in the financial success of the company when it reaches positive revenue. Another notable aspect of the ABB transfer has been the exceptionally high degree of inventor participation, with ongoing engagement by all of the ABB inventors to ensure the company’s commercial success.
The new ABB method is a major advance beyond current technologies for fabricating cellular solids, yielding lightweight foams that are shock-absorbent, buoyant, and easily tailored to specific applications. With both military and civilian applications, ABB-based products are expected to attract customers from multiple industries, such as aerospace, automotive, construction, personal safety, lightweight submersibles, electronics, and storage/shipping containers.
Contact: Dr. Aaron Wiest, (951) 393-4819, [email protected]