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MIT to make "nanotech" Army wear

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology gets $50 million from the U.S. Army to create lightweight uniforms--or a molecular "exoskeleton" for soldiers, using nanotechnology.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans to create military uniforms that can block out biological weapons and even heal their wearers as part of a five-year contract to develop nanotechnology applications for soldiers, the U.S. Army announced Wednesday.

MIT won the $50 million contract to create an Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, or ISN. The ISN will be staffed by around 150 people, including 35 MIT professors, specialists from the Army, DuPont and Raytheon, as well as doctors from the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, according to MIT.

The U.S. government has been boosting its spending on technology as part of an increased interest in national defense after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nanotechnology, the science of building things on a molecular level, has received a major chunk of the budget, and spending at the National Nanotechnology Initiative is expected to rise 17 percent this year.

The unique lightweight materials that can be composed using nanotechnology will possess revolutionary qualities that MIT says will help it make a molecular "exoskeleton" for soldiers. The ISN plans to research ideas for a soft--and almost invisible--clothing that can solidify into a medical cast when a soldier is injured or a "forearm karate glove" for combat, MIT said.

Researchers also hope to develop a kind of molecular chain mail that can deflect bullets.

In addition to protecting soldiers, these radically different materials will have uses in offensive tactics, at least psychologically.

"Imagine the psychological impact upon a foe when encountering squads of seemingly invincible warriors protected by armor and endowed with superhuman capabilities, such as the ability to leap over 20-foot walls," ISN director Ned Thomas said in a release.