The media tends to depict bullet-proof armour as something that’s thick and heavier than regular clothes. Despite being for bodily protection, the added bulk of that armour might restrict a person’s movements. But scientists at the City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Centre (ASRC) have found that diamond-hard armour doesn’t need to be thick. The key to less-bulky protection is graphene, a tightly-packed layer of bonded carbon atoms one million times thinner than a piece of paper.
The researchers discovered that two layers of graphene stacked on top of one another can temporarily become as hard as diamond — and just as impenetrable — when struck by, say, a bullet. The hardening of the new material, called diamene, only happens when exactly two sheets of graphene are layered together, according to the study published in Nature Nanotechnology. When more sheets were added, the hardening effect didn’t happen.
“Previously, when we tested graphite or a single atomic layer of graphene, we would apply pressure and feel a very soft film,” explained Elisa Riedo, professor of physics at the ASRC and lead project researcher, on the research center’s website. “But when the graphite film was exactly two-layers thick, all of a sudden we realized that the material under pressure was becoming extremely hard and as stiff, or stiffer, than bulk diamond.”
The team’s research could be used for more than just armour, and may be used in the development of wear-resistant protective coatings as well.
This isn’t the first attempt to lighten protective armor. In May 2017, Cadet 1st Class Hayley Weir and her professor Ryan Burke at the Air Force Academy created a substance that could stop bullets fired at close range, and could be used to make lightweight armor.
It will be interesting to see how this impacts the future of warfare. Soldiers wearing lightweight armour that makes them almost impervious to bullets would likely cause militaries around the world to shift to other weaponry. We know the United States is looking at laser weapons, while Russia is reportedly designing a missile controlled by artificial intelligence. Ironically, effective bullet-proof armour won’t count for much if no one’s using bullets anymore.