Study shows graphene able to withstand a speeding bullet

November 28, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Rice University scientists fired microbullets at supersonic speeds in experiments that show graphene is 10 times better than steel at absorbing the energy of a penetrating projectile. Credit: Jae-Hwang Lee

(—A team of researchers working at Rice University in the U.S. has demonstrated that graphene is better able to withstand the impact of a bullet than either steel or Kevlar. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes how they set up a miniature firing range in their laboratory and used it to test the strength of graphene sheets.

Scientists know that graphene sheets are tough, due to their dense one atom think structure. Until now, however, no one has tested the material for use as armor—to protect against being struck by a speeding bullet. In this new effort, the researchers did just that, albeit at a much smaller scale.

Scientists have yet to figure out a way to mass produce sheets of graphene in large sizes, thus, for this experiment, the researchers confined their efforts to a very small scale. Their firing range consisted of using a laser to vaporize gold filaments to serve as the gunpowder. The explosion pushed micron-sized glass bullets at graphene targets—10 to 100 sheets placed together to form a mat—at speeds up to 6,700 mph (approximately a third of the speed of a real bullet fired from an M16 machine gun). Electron microscopy was used to measure how well the graphene sheets absorbed the impact.

The researchers found that the sheets were able to dissipate the of the bullet by stretching backwards—sort of like when someone jumps on a trampoline. Tiny cracks also formed radially, using up more of the energy. In analyzing the results, the researchers found that the graphene was able to perform twice as well as Kevlar, the material currently used in bullet-proof vests, and up to ten times as well as steel. Put another way, the graphene was able to absorb aproximately 0.92MJ/kg of projectile energy, while steel can typically absorb 0.08MJ/kg when both are being tested at similar speeds.

The video will load shortly
Jae-Hwang Lee briefly shows how the micro-ballistic experiment was performed using the advanced laser induced projectile impact test (a-LIPIT) apparatus. Credit: Rice University

The ability of graphene to dissipate energy, the team explains, is due to a high degree of stiffness combined with low density, which means that energy can move through it very quickly, allowing for the dissipation of energy from something traveling as fast as a bullet.

The researchers efforts show that could very well mean a better -proof vest, if a way could be found to produce it in enough quantity and at a low enough price.

The video will load shortly

A microbullet traveling at supersonic speed is captured in this composite of three timed images as it makes its way toward a suspended sheet of multilayer graphene. Experiments carried out at Rice University show graphene is 10 times better than steel at absorbing the energy of a penetrating projectile. The bubble at left is a polymer film expanding away from the gold substrate that transfers energy from a laser to the microbullet. Credit: Thomas Research Group/Rice University
Materials scientist Edwin "Ned" Thomas, left, dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, and Jae-Hwang Lee, a former postdoctoral researcher in his lab and now an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, found graphene is stronger than steel in tests with microbullets. The researchers hold a polymer encasing bullets, the focus of a previous experiment. Credit: Tommy LaVergne/Rice University

Explore further: Making graphene in your kitchen

More information: Dynamic mechanical behavior of multilayer graphene via supersonic projectile penetration, Science 28 November 2014: Vol. 346 no. 6213 pp. 1092-1096. DOI: 10.1126/science.1258544

Multilayer graphene is an exceptional anisotropic material due to its layered structure composed of two-dimensional carbon lattices. Although the intrinsic mechanical properties of graphene have been investigated at quasi-static conditions, its behavior under extreme dynamic conditions has not yet been studied. We report the high–strain-rate behavior of multilayer graphene over a range of thicknesses from 10 to 100 nanometers by using miniaturized ballistic tests. Tensile stretching of the membrane into a cone shape is followed by initiation of radial cracks that approximately follow crystallographic directions and extend outward well beyond the impact area. The specific penetration energy for multilayer graphene is ~10 times more than literature values for macroscopic steel sheets at 600 meters per second.

Press release

Related Stories

Making graphene in your kitchen

April 20, 2014

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.

Graphene reinvents the future

August 27, 2014

For many scientists, the discovery of one-atom-thick sheets of graphene is hugely significant, something with the potential to affect just about every aspect of human activity and endeavour.

Twisted graphene chills out

September 17, 2014

( —When two sheets of graphene are stacked in a special way, it is possible to cool down the graphene with a laser instead of heating it up, University of Manchester researchers have shown.

Research unlocks potential of super-compound

October 22, 2014

Researchers at The University of Western Australia's have discovered that nano-sized fragments of graphene - sheets of pure carbon - can speed up the rate of chemical reactions.

New process isolates promising material molybdenum disulfide

November 13, 2014

After graphene was first produced in the lab in 2004, thousands of laboratories began developing graphene products worldwide. Researchers were amazed by its lightweight and ultra-strong properties. Ten years later, scientists ...

Recommended for you

Tiny DNA 'legs' walk with record fuel efficiency

June 30, 2016

(—For the first time, researchers have demonstrated a DNA nanomotor that can "walk" along a track with sustainable motion. The nanomotor also has the highest fuel efficiency for any type of walking nanomotor, or ...

New material can switch stiction and wetting

June 29, 2016

TU Wien (Vienna), KU Leuven and the University of Zürich have discovered a robust surface whose adhesive and wetting properties can be switched using electricity. This remarkable result is featured on the cover of Nature ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2014
"at speeds up to 6,700 mph (approximately a third of the speed of a real bullet). "

Which gun are you using that is popping rounds out at 20,100 mph? I would like to shoot it sometime!
5 / 5 (2) Nov 28, 2014
Alternative use: coating spacecraft with it to resist micrometeorite damage...
5 / 5 (2) Nov 28, 2014
The article badly misstates the speed of bullets. Quoting from the article, "The explosion pushed micron-sized glass bullets speeds up to 6,700 mph (approximately a third of the speed of a real bullet)".

But a casual internet search on "speed of a bullet in mph" or some such will bring one to sites where bullet speeds are said to range from about 600 to 5000 mph.
5 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2014
A .38 caliber handgun round travels at about 1,000 mph.
A 7.62 x 51 mm NATO (rifle) round does about 1,800 mph.
A .50 BMG sniper round does about 2,000 mph.
A .338 Lapua Magnum rifle round goes about 2,250 mph.
A .223 WSM round, the fastest .22 caliber rifle cartridge, goes about 3,100 mph.

I wonder if the author meant "a third of the ENERGY of a real bullet". Glass beads impact with much less energy than, say, lead, even if traveling twice the speed of a bullet.
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 29, 2014
No self respecting scientist is going to shoot anything in "MPH!" I'm going to guess 300 m/s which converts to 670 MPH.

Article reads 600 m/s for bullet speed in their opinion, so 1340 MPH = bullet speed.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 29, 2014
Hmm, I will question it slightly until they can actually build a real prototype and test it with a bullet.

My reasoning, when they did a similar test using a glass bead the size of a pin head - they said graphene was 20x stronger then kevlar and 100x stronger then steel. We just lost 90% of the strength.

Or is that because the test sample in this study is impure and the graphene is not a precise matrix? Is this meant to prove the value of an early commercial graphene? 2x kevlar is still a nice jump, especially if it means we can improve the multiplier as we make a more pure form of graphene.
3 / 5 (2) Nov 29, 2014
I think the writer of this article tried to calculate MPH from this:
"The specific penetration energy for multilayer graphene is ~10 times more than literature values for macroscopic steel sheets at 600 meters per second." (From the abstract)
Which is actually a good averaging of the bullet speeds, and got it wrong.
It should be ~1342 MPH. Unless here's something in the full article (which I can't read), that's all I can think of.
PS no one uses mph to talk about bullet speed.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.