Gas gun takes materials to the limit

“The fastest gun-fired projectile in the history of Australia”

The School of Engineering and Information Technology (SEIT) at UNSW Canberra has set records with its custom-built, two-stage gas gun.

The research team, under Professor Paul Hazell, has fired a 22-mm calibre projectile at a speed of 3.5 kilometres per second (about Mach 10), the fastest gun-fired projectile in the history of Australia. And, it is capable of faster velocities!

The gun is not all about weaponry but is a potent, high-tech research tool that will allow academics to answer several fundamental questions in science.

“We are looking at some fundamental material science questions around how materials fail in dynamic loading conditions,” said Professor Hazell. “We can hit materials so hard that they change the fundamental state of their structure, so we can now study how that works.”

Prior to taking up his position as a Professor of Impact Dynamics at UNSW Canberra Professor Hazell was a Reader at Cranfield University (UK), head of the Centre for Ordnance Science and Technology and head of the Dynamic Response Group.

His main research interests centre on the dynamic behaviour of materials and structures that have been subjected to impact / shock loading.

He has been actively involved in discovering methods for improving the performance of lightweight armour systems including ways of defending against attack from shapedcharge weapon systems and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Explaining the gas gun project, Professor Hazell says the team has the ability to test materials and structures to their extreme limits, taking materials to breaking point and putting them under conditions that are unavailable anywhere else in Australia.

“We can compress materials through a specific experimental design which can pressurise them to the same levels of what you would find in the centre of planetary bodies—for example centre-of-the-earth pressures which are enormous,” he says.

In explaining the wider capability available in the Impact Dynamics Laboratory, Professor Hazell said “In addition, we can take materials through one door—and subject them to a series of different tests and from that, build up a picture of how the material behavior/responds to a range of extreme conditions.”

The team is currently testing materials for the Australian Defence Force and foreign defence agencies.

For example, UNSW Canberra is currently testing a new design of aircraft bunkers to a high velocity impact, working out how they will stand up to bombs being dropped.

They also work with police on forensic analysis and crime scene investigation, advising on impact injuries and ballistic impacts.

Professor Hazell is head of the Impact Dynamics Research Group (IDRG) at UNSW Canberra and has published extensively in the fields of shock, impact and ballistics.

His teaching experience includes courses on armour systems design, military vehicle survivability, computational modelling techniques, shock and impact mechanics, impact dynamics, firepower technologies and weapon technologies.