Today’s body armor is stiff, encumbering, and expensive. All but the most advanced body armor is incredibly ineffective unless layered thickly and backed up with ceramic plates. Of course there is a present community of armored clothing outfitters, but these require stiff plating for all but the most basic protection. But a new development at the University of South Carolina may one day soon make everyday clothing bulletproof by adding a simple common element to the materials.
Police and law enforcement may have bulletproof fibers interlaced into their uniforms, protecting them from attacks just as effectively as current body armor, but allowing them the protection without requiring a 40 or 50 lb bulletproof vest. The lightweight shirts are woven with boron carbide, which is listed just under wurtzite boron nitride and lonsdaleite as the third hardest material on Earth. Boron Carbide is the same material used in the armor plating of heavy infantry vehicles such as tanks. The lightweight shirts would be almost as flexible as the material the cotton used in it, but would provide ballistic protection.
The University of South Carolina’s Dr. Xiadong Li is one of the Engineers working on the project and recently co-authored an article on the subject. Dr. Li called the research the University of South Carolina had been conducting a “true breakthrough” and declared that USC was “playing a lead role in this area.” He went on to say that the super-strong and ultra-light materials were opening up unprecedented opportunities. And of course the materials need not be limited to protection of law enforcement and soldiers. In addition to creating a cheaper and more efficient body armor for civilians, it could be used in scientific research and the space program as well to help protect materials that must remain flexible and to allow for research materials to be able to undergo considerably more strain. And to get back to the civilian market for a moment, it seems only logical that everyone would feel safer in certain occupations if they had bulletproof materials at hand. Every year there are numerous convenience store deaths caused by violent criminals. Cab drivers often suffer similar fates at the hands of armed gunmen.
And the flexibility of the boron carbide material offers to create more efficient vehicles and aircraft as well. Parachutes and other materials like them previously would have run a much greater risk of tearing. And rope as well would be much more reliable if the material were less likely to tear or break under strain which would be good news to climbers.
Though this material may start with ballistics protection, if successful it will end by influencing a number of aspects of everyday life. Stronger materials have always been one of the most integral parts of progressive technology. One must only look to history going back to the first discovery of bronze to understand the importance of lightweight and tough materials. Perhaps this technology will make the world a safer and more sustainable place in the long term.