North Carolina State University professor Dr. Afsaneh Rabiei is not your typical researcher: She has experience in casting, welding and materials testing, which along with her mechanical and aerospace engineering background makes her an ideal materials scientist.
Dr. Rabiei has led a team of researchers and students to develop a new type of metal foam that is light, strong, and can absorb a lot of kinetic energy. Think of a microscopic version of the "crush zones" designed into the front and rear end of cars. According to an article on Rabiei's material in LiveScience.com,
Rough traffic accident calculations show that by inserting two pieces of her composite metal foam behind the bumper of a car traveling 28 mph, the impact would feel the same to passengers as impact traveling at only 5 mph.
...[Since] bulk steel is three times heavier than the steel foam, it's easy to see how the foam could attract car manufacturers looking for a bumper that will improve safety and gas mileage.