Researchers from Rice University and the University of Massachusetts have arranged sheets of graphene in layers and concluded that it can stop bullets 8-10 times more effectively than steel. Those of you familiar with graphene may not be surprised to hear how great it is at stopping bullets, but the uninitiated should be reminded that this is the same material that is the most electrically conductive in the world, and can also be used in transparent brain implants.

Most amazing is the fact that this wonder material is simply a honeycomb-structured layer of carbon atoms which is one-atom-thick.

graphene body armor

Graphene body armor: Research methods

The study involved firing tiny gold bullets at sheets of graphene, and marks one of the first studies in which the material has been tested in real life. Most previous research on graphene has been simulated, theoretical or extrapolated.

Researchers took results from between 10 and 100 layers of graphene. By firing a laser at a gold filament, they turned it into a tiny projectile which traveled at 3,000 meters per second,  twice as fast as existing high-powered rifles, before hitting the graphene. Results showed that graphene stops bullets twice as effectively as Kevlar, or about ten times as effectively as steel.

Future innovations

Manufacturers of bulletproof armor will be intrigued to find that the bullets caused a conical deformation of the graphene on impact, before cracking radially. This is potentially problematic, but can be solved using a composite structure or thicker graphene. Its composition means that layers can be added to graphene plates without increasing bulkiness; 1 million layers of graphene would still only be 1 millimeter thick.

The potential for a graphene revolution is currently being restricted by supply-side problems. We currently understand processes which can produce lots of low-quality graphene, or small amounts of high-quality material. Once scientists can work out how to make large quantities of high-quality graphene, its many applications have the potential to revolutionize our lives, not just in stopping bullets but also in more mundane fields such as smartphone technology and battery life.