Futuristic paper-thin material stops bullets

Bulletproofing for soldiers and law enforcement officers has lightened up considerably in recent years, but it promises to get insanely thin with new nanotechnology coming out of MIT and Rice University.

A team of mechanical engineering and materials scientists from Rice University and MIT created special materials that were able to stop bullets in the lab. The group, which included Rice research scientist Jae-Hwang Lee and School of Engineering dean Ned Thomas, recently published their findings in Nature Communications (abstract).

The type of material, called a structured polymer composite, can actually self-assemble into alternating glassy and rubbery layers. When performing ballistic tests on the material at MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, those 20-nanometer-thick layers were able to stop a 9-millimeter bullet and seal the entryway behind it, according to a Rice University article.

However, one of the challenges to making thinner and lighter protective gear is being able to test new, promising materials effectively in the lab. The MIT-Rice team also came up with an innovative testing method, where they shot tiny glass beads at the material. Although the beads were only a millionth of a meter in size, they simulated bullet impacts, according to MIT News.

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