Imagine a day in the future when a soldier could just roll out of bed, pull on a cotton T-shirt, and head out into a combat zone, without worrying about taking a bullet through the chest.
An international team of scientists from Switzerland, China, and the United States have moved one step closer towards the goal of a bulletproof T-shirt by combining cotton with boron carbide–the third hardest material known on earth and the stuff used to armor battle tanks.
Chemistry World reports:
Modern military forces use plates of boron carbide (B4C) as ceramic inserts for bulletproof clothing but these can restrict mobility, so the design of a nanocomposite — where B4C is used to reinforce another material — could provide the perfect balance of strength and flexibility.
The scientists created the new bulletproof material by cutting squares from a pure cotton T-shirt and soaking them in a solution containing boron powder and a nickel-based catalyst. Then they heated the cloth patches to 2012 degrees Fahrenheit under a stream of argon that prevented the material from burning. In the process, the cotton fibers changed to carbon fibers, which reacted with the boron powder to form “nanowires” of boron carbide. The researchers describe their breakthrough in the journal Advanced Materials.
The cloth changed color from white to black after the reaction, but remained remarkably strong, lightweight, and flexible. But cops and soldiers won’t be sporting these bulletproof T-shirts anytime soon, Chemistry World adds:
But despite the dramatic change in their properties, this type of ‘armored cotton’ is not yet ready to replace conventional bulletproof materials, such as Kevlar.
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Image: Xiaoding Li. The image shows the nanowire arrays in the cotton fabric, and a cross-section diagram of the carbon microfiber coated with boron carbide nanowires.