Nanomaterial Can Stop a Speeding Bullet, Strengthen Soldiers' Body Armor
Researchers at a Rice University lab are researching technology that that could potentially stop a 9-millimeter bullet and seal the entryway behind it - an advance that may have huge implications for ballistic protection for soldiers, as well as other uses.
During tests, the researchers were able to shoot tiny glass beads at the material, which effectively stopped bullets in their paths.
"This would be a great ballistic windshield material," scientist Ned Thomas said in a clip posted on the university's website.
The group, which included scientist Thomas, Rice research scientist Jae-Hwang Lee and a team from MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, was looking for ways to make materials "more impervious to deformation or failure." The result would be better, stronger, lighter armor for soldiers and police, and protection for sensitive materials subject to small, fast moving objects, such as aircraft and satellites.
The researchers were looking at a complex polyurethane material that they saw was able to stop a 9 mm slug and seal its entryway. When penetrated by a tiny projectile at a high velocity, the material melted into a liquid that stopped the fast-moving object and actually sealed the hole it made.
"There's no macroscopic damage; the material hasn't failed; it hasn't cracked," Thomas said.
During their research, they found an excellent model material called a polystyrene-polydimethylsiloxane diblock-copolymer. Using two different methods, the team was eventually able to cross-section the structure to determine the depth of the bullets, and according to their study, the layers showed the ability to deform without breaking.
"[The layers] tell the story of the evolution of penetration of the projectile and help us understand what mechanisms, at the nanoscale, may be taking place in order for this to be such a great, high-performance, lightweight protection material."