Spongy Steel Won't Soak Up a Mess, But It Could Save Your Ass in a Firefight

Future comic book heroes may be referred to as Men of Spongy Steel if one researcher's experimental metal makes it out of the lab and into real-world applications.

There's no fancy name attached to this stuff yet, so we'll just call it steel foam for now. Name or no name, its various applications (tested in the lab) still sound incredible:

Rough traffic accident calculations show that by inserting two pieces of her composite metal foam behind the bumper of a car traveling 28 mph, the impact would feel the same to passengers as impact traveling at only 5 mph.

Then there's the smash test, wherein researcher and materials scientist Afsaneh Rabiei takes a piece of steel and a piece of foam steel and smashes them both into a base plate at high speed. After the test, there's a clear indentation in the traditional steel, while the foam shows no damage whatsoever. Energy absorption, and all that.

As the article notes, metal foam isn't exactly a new invention, but these tests show Rabiei's may be the strongest version yet. Already scientists' minds are swimming with applications for this super spongy steel, most notably body armor, artificial limbs, boats and airplanes. [Live Science via Neatorama]