Bulletproof technology throughout history has had to make concessions between portability and safety. New research into graphene may remove that barrier, strengthening body armor while keeping weight down. Tests have shown that graphene performs twice as well as the current fabric used in bulletproof vests.

The implications are huge. Police and military units rely on the vests to protect them during patrols or in battle. Weight is especially an issue with U.S. military members, who contend with packs that stretch the limits of what a person can carry. Any weight savings turns into a combat multiplier.

Research into graphene has shown its promise as a conductor of heat and electricity. Its strength has been looked upon as a possible material for body armor. The issue has always been it was tough to test the ballistics of the material. One sheet is composed of single carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb shape.

The impact of a ballistic test would destroy the graphene sheet. A team at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, led by Jae-Hwang Lee, devised what they call miniature ballistic tests as a workaround.

Using a laser pulse to superheat gold filament, they were able to fire a micron-size glass bullet at 10 to 100 sheets of graphene. Speeds reached 3000 meters per second, or one-third the speed of a bullet from a M-16 (5.56 NATO ammunition).

The team found that not only did it perform twice as well as kevlar, its ability to disperse kinetic energy was ten times the strength of steel. Cracks were one of the weaknesses, but Lee said the final product could incorporate a composite structure to contain the cracks.

Absorbing kinetic energy is important as it helps dissipate energy. This in turn limits penetration, and would in theory return infantry to battle. Even with a bulletproof vest, you don’t exactly want to be an easy target. It still hurts like hell due to the kinetic force. Graphene could be the answer to keep cops and military members upright in gunfights.

Check out the full study in Science.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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