If researchers from Rice University and MIT have their way, the super soldier of the future will be outfitted in razor-thin armor that's impervious to bullets. The team of mechanical engineers and materials scientists have developed a special ballistics material that's just 20 nanometers thick (a water molecule is just one-nanometer wide) and can stop a deadly projectile in its tracks.
The material, a structured polymer composite made of alternating rubbery and glassy layers, can absorb the kinetic energy from high impact assaults with startling efficiency. During tests, researchers blasted it with tiny glass beads that simulated the impact from a 9-millimeter bullet. The ultra-thin layers didn't just halt a projectile in its path, but sealed up around the embedded bead.
Why is it so effective? When the composite is hit, it quickly melts into a liquid before instantaneously hardening to close up the resulting damage. That means there's no structural deformities to deal with. "There's no macroscopic damage; the material hasn't failed; it hasn't cracked," says Ned Thomas, a researcher who worked on the project. "This would be a great ballistic windshield material."
In addition to yielding better body armor for soldiers and police, the composite could potentially provide more resilient outer layers for spacecraft to ward off meteorite fragments and other space debris, and more durable jet-turbine blades.
Take a look:
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: 10 major differences between the book and the movie
- Inside Turkey's shadow war with ISIS
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- The week's best editorial cartoons
- Why insects are the future of food
Subscribe to the Week