Scientists at Nanyang Technological University and California Institute of Technology have created a material that resembles chain mail. The unique fabric was 3D printed.

Materials that change properties in response to certain stimuli will come in handy in many fields, from robotics and medicine to the construction of modern aircraft. Scientists have used a new example of this type of shape-shifting technology to create a modern “chain mail”. It quickly becomes flexible or rigid due to specially positioned interconnected particles.

The lightweight fabric is 3D printed from nylon plastic resins. It consists of hollow octahedra (a shape with eight equal triangular faces) that interlock with each other. In a plastic envelope and vacuum sealed, the fabric becomes 25 times stiffer and can support 50 times its own weight.

This next-generation fabric is paving the way for lightweight body armor as well as protective gear for athletes and exoskeletons to help older adults stand, walk, and carry objects.