teen creates armor
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
March 26, 2024 ·  5 min read

Teen Scientist Creates SMART Armor Shield To Help in Radiation Treatment

Macinley Butson was the first Australian to win first place at the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair in nearly 68 years.  She invented armor with the aim to protect patients from excess radiation during breast cancer. Her hard work payed off and her invention has great potential, with experimental models showing the armor reducing radiation exposure by up to 75%! Oddly, that isn’t even the most impressive thing about all of this. You see, Macinley did all this by the age of 16. 

The Side Effects of Radiation Therapy

According to Medical News Today: “Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.” [1]

Fortunately, treatment for this cancer has improved survival rates over the years, with the chances of a woman dying from breast cancer is about one in 38. However, one in eight is likely to develop it.

The main treatment for this disease is chemotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy, and radiation therapy, depending on the type and stage of cancer, the health of the patient, and sensitivity to hormones.

Radiation therapy is commonly used after surgery to target and kill any leftover cancer cells, or before surgery to reduce the tumor; it may also be used alongside chemotherapy or on its own.

However, radiation therapy has side effects like fatigue, hair loss, skin changes, and digestion disturbances. Long-term side effects also include:

  • Heart and lung issues (if the radiation affects the chest)
  • Thyroid issues (if the radiation affects the neck)
  • Hormonal changes (if the radiation affects the pelvic area
  • Lymphedema, which is a painful condition where lymph fluid builds up in the body.
  • A slight chance the radiation can cause another kind of cancer to develop.

Keep in mind that not everyone who undergoes radiation has these long-term side effects. The risk changes with the dosage of radiation, the part of the body being treated, and other factors that a doctor would bring up individually with each patient when explaining their treatment options. [2]

Related: Malawian Teen Taught Himself How To Build A Windmill From Junk, Brought Power To His Village, ALL Learned From Library Books!

The Spark for Butson’s Invention

Butson’s brother and father work in medical physics and she had a long fascination with science. She began researching the harmful effects of radiation therapy after her father spoke about his experience with ineffective treatments for cancer from his work over the dinner table. Butson had also lost a relative to breast cancer, which propelled her investigation.

She tried reading scientific journals but their jargon was difficult for her to understand, so she turned to YouTube to teach her how to read these journals.

“In my scientific journey I definitely used YouTube, because looking at scientific journals as a high school student they’re pretty much in a different language and they’re written with that target audience of experts in the industry,” she said.

She also conducted thorough research, including YouTube, of the effects of breast cancer and its treatment.

“Being able to watch those videos helped me gain an understanding of what they’re going through and how that feels. So when I was coming up with a solution, I kept those in mind,” she said. “It wasn’t about what was the most effective from a scientific perspective, but psychologically, ‘how will this help the patient?'”

As her research progressed, she discovered a groundbreaking piece of information: copper is 20% better at protecting the body from radiation than lead, which is the metal currently in use.

Her idea came during tenth-grade history class while she was watching a video about medieval wars. She noticed the scaled armor and the invention formed in her mind: a protective armor made from copper.

“I’m obviously not from the medieval ages, so I had no idea what was involved [in making it],” she said. “It’s similar to a lot of knitting — you look at photos and they’re written in words and that makes no sense, but when someone’s doing it and you can watch them and play it at different speeds, it makes it a lot quicker.”

She returned to YouTube to learn how to assemble the scales. The genius has admitted that she can find the website distracting, which many of us can relate to.

“It has the intellectual side and I used it for schoolwork but, then again, I can be watching funny goat videos when I shouldn’t be but I’m enjoying myself,” she said. “It’s a form of procrastination I’m well aware of.” [3]

Finally, she was able to complete the SMART Armor: Scale Mail for Radiation Therapy, made from high-density copper plating. It is flexible and covers the breast not being treated from excessive radiation exposure. 

When the SMART Armor was tested in a laboratory, it proved to reduce surface radiation exposure by 75%. It has been tested extensively and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. [4]

Besides for winning the INTEL International Science and Engineering Fair, Butson has gone own to host her own TEDTalk. She has amassed a large collection of awards —from first place in Scientific Investigations National BHP Foundation Science and Engineering Fair in 2019 to Sportsgirl “Be That Girl” Campaign Model Influencer — about 30 awards and honors to date.

Butson has multiple handmade shields packaged up and ready for use.  “It’s at the stage where a lot of the right steps have been done,” she said. “We’re looking for a hospital to be the first to run a pilot study on it and use it with a patient.”

We’re looking forward to see what becomes of this young inventor and her SMART Armor. 

Read More: 14-Year Old Girl Invents A Way for Drivers to See Through Blindspots


  1. Adam Felman. What to know about breast cancer. Medical News Daily. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/37136.php August 12 ,2019
  2. Markus MacGill. What to know about radiation therapy? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/158513.php September 3, 2019
  3. Justin Hunsdale. SMART Armour copper cancer shield fabric brings teen scientist Macinley Butson YouTube fame. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-22/youtube-profiles-teenage-scientist-macinley-butson/11134004 May 22, 2019.
  4. Macinley Butson, Susan Carroll, Martin Butson, Robin Hill.  Characterization of a novel scale maille contralateral breast shield: SMART Armor. AAPM. https://aapm.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/acm2.12158 11 August 2017