Protective equipment made with D3O® (orange)
has an outer surface made of thermoplastic
polyurethane (TPU), a type of plastic. TPU helps
to spread the impact across the surface, and then
D3O® hardens and absorbs the shock from the impact.
prolonged force is required to thin a shear-thinning fluid.
Many applications of D3O®
D3O® can offer impact protection because
it instantly becomes more viscous whenever a
sudden shear stress is applied. One of its big-
gest uses is in protective knee and elbow pads.
In its normal state, D3O® behaves as a
fluid, flowing easily, so it does not inter-
fere with the user’s mobility. But if you
take a tumble while skateboarding and your
knee hits the ground, the bright orange
D3O® putty will instantly harden, offering a
greater degree of protection than traditional
D3O® is also used to reduce concussions
sustained by teen athletes. The American
Academy of Pediatrics has reported a doubling of the number of reported concussions
among teens in the past decade, with four to
5 million concussions occurring annually.
D3O® can be found in specially made hel-
mets used in a wide variety of sports, from
football to lacrosse to softball, with the hope
that using this material can reduce concus-
sion rates. Many helmets in use today primar-
ily offer only impact protection and do little
to prevent the rotational acceleration that can
lead to side-to-side or front-to-back move-
ments of the brain within the skull, which
can lead to concussions. Designing helmets
that can reduce these types of movements is
an active area of research, incorporating the
fields of bioengineering, sports medicine, and
Perhaps the most important use of D3O®
is to protect the lives of police officers
and members of the military. Bulletproof
vests and other types of body armor are often
unpopular because they are too bulky and
restrict movement, making it difficult to perform one’s job.
D3O® has been incorporated into bulletproof vests and helmets. It is more effective
when layered with other substances, providing
an effective barrier that prevents penetration
of projectiles, such as bullets and shrapnel.
If this type of body armor is impacted, it
instantly hardens, protecting the wearer.
If you drop your cell phone, a shattered
screen or worse may be the end result. Incor-
porating D3O® in cell-phone cases provides
excellent impact protection. These cases are
easily identified by the bright orange stripes on
their sides. If you tend to drop your phone a
lot, you may want to consider this type of case.
The number of uses for D3O® and other
similar non-Newtonian products is seemingly
endless. They can protect you from serious injury and protect your most cherished
possessions. A popular slogan embraced
by the chemical industry is “Better Living
through Chemistry.” D3O® provides a ringing
endorsement of this motto.
Woodford, C. Energy-Absorbing Plastics.
Explain that Stuff, Oct 23, 2015: http://www.
html [accessed Nov 2016].
Healy, M. Football Helmets and Concussion: A New
Study Opens New Questions. Los Angeles Times,
Feb 17, 2014: http://www.latimes.com/science/
20140217-story.html [accessed Nov 2016].
Zarda, B. The Incredibly Wide World of Smart
Material D3O. Popular Science, Aug 14, 2009:
material-d3o [accessed Nov 2016].
Brian Rohrig is a science writer who lives in
Columbus, Ohio. His most recent ChemMatters
article, “Piping Hot, Ice Cold… Thanks to
Chemistry,” appeared in the December 2016/
January 2017 issue.
D3O® SmartSkin men’s shirt
Lacrosse helmet with D3O® lining D3O® shoe insoles
10 ChemMatters | FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017 www.acs.org/chemmatters
D3O® used in a kneepad