Ordinary T-shirts could become body armor

Apr 07, 2010
SEM images showing the nanowire arrays in the T-shirt fabric, and diagram illustrating the cross-section of the carbon microfibre coated with boron carbide-nanowires. Image (c) Advanced Materials

(PhysOrg.com) -- A simple cotton T-shirt may one day be converted into tougher, more comfortable body armor for soldiers or police officers.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina, collaborating with others from China and Switzerland, drastically increased the toughness of a T-shirt by combining the carbon in the shirt’s cotton with boron - the third hardest material on earth. The result is a lightweight shirt reinforced with boron carbide, the same material used to protect tanks.

Dr. Xiaodong Li, USC College of Engineering and Computing Distinguished Professor in Mechanical Engineering, co-authored the recent article on the research in the journal, .

“USC is playing a leading role in this area. This is a true breakthrough,” Li said, calling the research “a conceptual change in fabricating lightweight, fuel-efficient, super-strong and ultra-tough materials. This groundbreaking new study opens up unprecedented opportunities.”

The scientists started with plain, white T-shirts that were cut into thin strips and dipped into a boron solution. The strips were later removed from the solution and heated in an oven. The heat changes the cotton fibers into , which react with the boron solution and produce boron carbide.

The result is a fabric that’s lightweight but tougher and stiffer than the original T-shirt, yet flexible enough that it can be bent, said Li, who led the group from USC. That flexibility is an improvement over the heavy boron-carbide plates used in bulletproof vests and body armor.

“The currently used boron-carbide bulk material is brittle,” Li said. “The boron-carbide nanowires we synthesized keep the same strength and stiffness of the bulk boron carbide but have super-elasticity. They are not only lightweight but also flexible. We should be able to fabricate much tougher body armors using this new technique. It could even be used to produce lightweight, fuel-efficient cars and aircrafts.”

The resulting boron-carbide fabric can also block almost all ultraviolet rays, Li said.

Explore further: 'Mind the gap' between atomically thin materials

Provided by University of South Carolina

4.4 /5 (27 votes)

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labtvonline
not rated yet Apr 07, 2010
I feel like we all knew it was coming one day and I guess that one day is very much in the near future. I find it interesting that the fabric stayed flexible even after the cotton material was stripped away and all that was left was the nano-wire. Nanotechnology is truly, everyday, becoming the prominent technology of the future. I just recently saw a video about how military scientists are using nano-fibers to create new garments that you can use to charge your ipod, regulate your body temperate and even keep you healthy! I'll post a link if you want to check it out for yourself. It's pretty wild stuff. I can't wait to see if this new material can really stop a bullet. Move over superman!

http://www.ndep.u...nofibers
CarolinaScotsman
not rated yet Apr 07, 2010
What temperature were they heated to and for how long?
fixer
5 / 5 (2) Apr 07, 2010
Sounds like Kevlar, but what about all the additional padding to distribute the impact.
T shirt thickness wouldn't stop an air gun slug without damage.
Truth
2.7 / 5 (3) Apr 07, 2010
Collaborating with scientists from China??? Okay, call me suspicious, but since when did we start "collaborating" with the Chinese on potential body-armor technology? This isn't far from saying we're collaborating with them on tank armor, missle defense, etc. Hope this collaboration doesn't come back to haunt us someday on some far-away battleground...
zevkirsh
not rated yet Apr 08, 2010
they could...sure. but they won't. they will remain t-shirts.
AtomThick
1 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2010
Sounds like Kevlar, but what about all the additional padding to distribute the impact.
T shirt thickness wouldn't stop an air gun slug without damage.


Actually if the bullet doesn't penetrate the flesh the impact isn't that strong. One of Newton's laws says that where is action there is also a reaction and since the gun with which you are firing isn't breaking your arm the same will happen at the place where the bullet hits therefore the pain shouldn't be that strong.
antialias
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2010
Collaborating with scientists from China???
Science is often an interdisciplinary/international thing. (And seriously: scientists don't give a damn about politicians and their childish (war-)games)
Stuff is published in journals. Do you think we don't read what they publish (and they don't read what we publish)?

What would be interesting is _how_ flexible the material is after the procedure. I'll bet it isn't nearly as flexible as the t-shirt was. Laminating multiple layers of this stuff might yield something useful, though.

DozerIAm
5 / 5 (3) Apr 08, 2010
What would be interesting is _how_ flexible the material is after the procedure. I'll bet it isn't nearly as flexible as the t-shirt was. Laminating multiple layers of this stuff might yield something useful, though.

Exactly my thoughts on reading the article. They say flexible and the mind wants to think "just as flexible as the original cotton tee shirt", but that hardly seems possible.

Also, a single layer of this won't make you bulletproof - even if it did stop the bullet from going thru the material the flexibility would mean that you had a tee shirt burrowed 6 inches into your torso. Still a problem for the shootee.
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2010
Sounds like Kevlar, but what about all the additional padding to distribute the impact.
T shirt thickness wouldn't stop an air gun slug without damage.


Actually if the bullet doesn't penetrate the flesh the impact isn't that strong. One of Newton's laws says that where is action there is also a reaction and since the gun with which you are firing isn't breaking your arm the same will happen at the place where the bullet hits therefore the pain shouldn't be that strong.


You've obviously never fired a weapon before. There are several mechanical ways involved with dispersing the force of firing a gun. Even if that weren't the case, preventing the penetration of a bullet isn't the same as dispersing the force of a bullet. A decent sized projectile would very likely pull this material right through your body if there weren't some way to disperse the force over a larger area
JimB135
5 / 5 (4) Apr 08, 2010
A decent sized projectile would very likely pull this material right through your body

Exactly. But at least the Tee might plug the hole and slow the bleeding a little
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2010
But then you might be the first person ever to die of a traumatic T-Shirt injury.

I guess people have showed up to hospitals with weirder things in their bodies...
CouchP
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2010
But then you might be the first person ever to die of a traumatic T-Shirt injury.

I guess people have showed up to hospitals with weirder things in their bodies...


Musket balls were causing this probably not long after it's invention. Th balls are blunt enough that they cut a perfectly round patch out of your clothing and embed it into your body. This was one of the main reasons why you would die from infection if the patch was not also removed.

NotAsleep
not rated yet Apr 08, 2010
True, but not what we're getting at. Musket balls still wouldn't pull an entire confederate shirt through your body, the shirt would rip. The point of the conversation above was that a bulletproof material doesn't necessarily make you, the user, bulletproof for wearing it. Instead of getting a small patch of the shirt lodged in your body, you'd get the entire shirt lodged in your body.

And of course this is all assuming that the shirt they're developing is actually bullet proof
DozerIAm
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2010
Wow, that is just way too cool. Seriously. I like it. Everybody should be wearing it.


Ok, I'll bite. Why?
Forestgnome
3 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2010
Sounds like Kevlar, but what about all the additional padding to distribute the impact.
T shirt thickness wouldn't stop an air gun slug without damage.


Actually if the bullet doesn't penetrate the flesh the impact isn't that strong. One of Newton's laws says that where is action there is also a reaction and since the gun with which you are firing isn't breaking your arm the same will happen at the place where the bullet hits therefore the pain shouldn't be that strong.

Kinetic energy, equal reactions: mv^2=mv^2
Ruger Blackhawk,36oz(15750 grains)
Bullet, 250 grains, 860fps
Do the math!(Calulate for pistol velocity)
That's why it doesn't break your hand.
Now consider the pressure at the tip of the bullet in lbs per sq in. That's why it penetrates.
Mercury_01
not rated yet Apr 13, 2010
Maybe they'll settle on a dungaree shirt with a bit more thickness. If I had my druthers, Id make mine a dickie!
gashog
not rated yet Apr 14, 2010
This will be very effective when the World converts to marshmallow bullets.

Ballistic nylon and aramid will have to tide us over till then.
wellduh
not rated yet Apr 14, 2010
Having cloth poked into your wounds is many times worse than just being shot. The cloth will carry lots of extra dirt and other infection agents into the wound. This problem was rampant in the days of muskets and early body armor in Vietnam. But antibiotic treatment is faster today. Additionally such ballistic cloth will also act as a flexible saw as it is dragged into the body by the bullet.

So you still have to have the padding and at least semi-rigid plates (though perhaps lighter and thinner). As noted by many above, without such plates cloth that is too flexible molds to the bullet and will allow the narrowly focused energy to penetrate.

On the bright side, ballistic cloth might reduce the widespread cavitation effects on tissues from supersonic shock waves from rifle bullets...at the cost of concentrating wounding energy at the entrance site. Wounds to the thorax would become more like crushing or blunt object impacts. You might still die from the wound but affect fewer orga
shayda
not rated yet May 04, 2010
What they're talking about is back face deformation vs actual protection. Although it can stop a bullet, the most important thing is absorbing the kinetic energy transfer. At best, what can be done here is using this fiber in conjunction with like "wellduh" says a semi ridged plate.

Also, the concept of Tshirt armor is already in place. This ballistic nylon and Aramid vest does not look too bad.

http://www.bluede...irt.html

So what I'm really trying to say is that: Yes, stopping a bullet should not be the only concern. However, there are tons of alternatives today which will TOTALLY do just fine.

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