Researchers have created an amazing new material that they think will be able to turn bulletproof vests diamond-hard. It’s called graphene, and while it’s been around for over 12 years, it wasn’t until 2017 that it began to show promise for use in bulletproof vests.
Graphene was discovered in 2004 by two researchers at the University of Manchester, Profesor Andre Geim and Professor Kostya Novoselov. The scientific community was impressed enough to award them the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.
Graphene is graphite that has been stripped down to be only one atom thick. Both graphite and diamond are made entirely of carbon, each with different arrangements of atoms. Stripping graphite down to one atom of thickness gives graphene its unique properties of flexibility and strength. But at one atom thick, graphene wasn’t exactly hard as a diamond — at least not yet.
The Breakthrough That Gave Graphene Bulletproof Potential
At its new thickness, scientists thought that the new material might have useful applications in everything from clean energy technology to night vision goggles.
Then, in 2017, the research team noticed something peculiar when they stacked two single-atom layers of graphene together. The two layers were pressure tested with what’s called an atomic force microscope. Under pressure, graphene became harder than diamond!
Graphene is extremely flexible, but at exactly two atoms thick, it becomes rigid and stiff when pressure is applied. We’re talking real stiff. What gives graphene so much potential for use in bulletproof vests is that it stays flexible until extreme pressure is applied, meaning it could be easy and lightweight to wear, but suddenly become rigid and hard if hit by a bullet.
According to the University of Manchester, where graphene was first discovered, it’s the thinnest material on the planet. This, combined with its strength, flexibility, and now, diamond-level hardness under pressure, gives graphene the potential to revolutionize almost every aspect of daily life.
For now, at least it can help protect law enforcement and military personnel with the next generation of bulletproof protection.