American Elephants

200 Times Stronger Than Steel, Graphene Stops Supersonic Bullets! by The Elephant's Child

Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics  in 2010 for isolating graphene in 2004— a wonder material: a substance 200 times stronger than steel, yet as thin as a single atom. By May of 2013, there had been more than 9,000 patent applications for graphene. From my 2013 post about graphene, some of those applying for patents were:

Companies like Apple, Saab, Lockheed Martin, Samsung, Nokia, BASF SE. The potential uses are as broad as filtering salt from seawater, flexible touch screens, anti-rust coatings, sports equipment like tennis racquets,  DNA sequencing devices, and distilling vodka. Everybody is trying to patent everything, so that you have the option of suing your competitors later and stopping them. Labs all over the world are hard at work, as is the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Dr. Geim, the Nobel laureate, has said that “Graphene opened up a material world we didn’t even know existed.” Scientists are looking at scores of other two-dimensional materials with unusual properties.

Graphene has remarkable properties that could revolutionize electronics, but new research has shown that the material is better than Kevlar at stopping bullets fired at supersonic speeds. Early research has shown that the material is able to absorb ten times as much energy as steel before failing.

“Graphene consists of single layers of carbon atoms, arranged in a sheet. Rice University researchers examined the behavior of graphene when subjected to simulated impacts from high-velocity bullets. A laser guidance system directed a silica bullet toward a small graphene target, containing several layers of the material. The laser evaporated a gold film, producing puffs of gas that accelerated the bullet toward its miniscule target at speeds up to 2,000 mph. Velocities of the projectile, taken before and after impact were used to calculate the amount  of energy absorbed by the target.”

Because of the scale of the experiment, they could not use a real gun barrel or gunpowder. The tiny graphene targets distributed the kinetic energy of the impacting projectile first into a cone and then into cracks that radiated from the point of impact.

“One popular analogy is that graphene is strong enough to withstand the weight of an elephant balancing on a pencil. However, this is the first major study to examine how the substance could be used in blocking bullets.”

So far, high quality graphene can only be produced in small quantities, so commercial production of bulletproof vests is a ways off. Until now, Kevlar is the most common material used to manufacture garments to protect from bullets. It was first developed in 1965 at DuPont. By the early 1970s it was being used as a  replacement for rubber in race car wheels. Today Kevlar is used in bicycle tires, sails for boats and drum heads — which is a pretty good demonstration of the widely varied uses that can come from a new material.

Graphene paint could mean the end of rust. Graphene oxide can be applied to metal, glass and brick, protecting the object from corrosion. Graphene  paint can even be applied to sand, creating a tough transparent coating holding grains together in any desired shape. A method for producing sheets of graphene economically may not be far off.

The rewards for turning the enormous  potential of graphene into real commercial products are so promising that the competition must be fierce. It sounds like there are some exciting stories waiting to be told. Stay tuned.

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