Villanova Professor Partners with MythBusters Co-Host to Study Blast-Protection Structures

Edmond Dougherty, Visiting Assistant Professor and founder of Ablaze Development

The Office of Naval Research has awarded a $70,000 Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I contract to Ablaze Development Corporation to develop innovative structures that will better protect vehicles from roadside blasts. Founded by Visiting Assistant Professor Edmond Dougherty BSEE ’69, GS ’86, Ablaze Development performs applied research, design, and development in technological fields. The company will be partnering with Villanova University’s College of Engineering and M5 Industries, which is owned by Jamie Hyneman, co-host of the Discovery Channel series MythBusters.

During this seven-month project, researchers will employ computer simulation to develop an idea that Hyneman originated: that of designing a material that will deflect and disperse, rather than absorb, the impact of a blast, thus mitigating the consequences of the explosion. Using genetic algorithms, the computer will test millions of combinations of variables, such as shape, size, and material, to determine which combinations are the most promising, and then will refine and improve them.

Professor Dougherty hopes to have several sample structures built by the end of this first phase. Dr. Gerard Jones ME ’72, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, will play a key role in the computer simulation. Other faculty and College technicians will assist with the building of the structures—regardless of whether that construction takes place at the nano level or in the machine shop. “I’m confident that whatever way the computer and genetic algorithms take us, we’ll find expertise at Villanova to help us out,” Professor Dougherty said.

Should the project receive Phase II funding, Hyneman will be responsible for testing full-size prototypes. He has collaborated with Ablaze Development on several projects already and is excited to be part of this one. “I have had more than my fair share of experience with explosives and projectiles on MythBusters, and as we were doing a story called ‘What Is Bulletproof?’ I began pulling together some thoughts I’ve had regarding armor into unified theories. Under the STTR project, with the help of Ablaze Development and Villanova University, we will test those theories.”