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Scientists Turn T-Shirts Into Body Armor 213

Posted by timothy
from the will-stick-with-the-regular-kind-for-now dept.
separsons writes "Scientists at the University of South Carolina recently transformed ordinary T-shirts into bulletproof armor. By splicing cotton with boron, the third hardest material on the planet, scientists created a shirt that was super elastic but also strong enough to deflect bullets. Xiaodong Li, lead researcher on the project, says the same tech may eventually be used to create lightweight, fuel-efficient cars and aircrafts."
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Scientists Turn T-Shirts Into Body Armor

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  • by treeves (963993) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:01PM (#31803668) Homepage Journal
    What happens if I'm wearing one of these tee-shirts when my nipples explode with delight?
  • by masmullin (1479239) <masmullin@gmail.com> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:01PM (#31803674)

    Brings my AC to 15!

  • How elastic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chill (34294) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:03PM (#31803682) Journal

    It isn't going to help much if the bullet has enough force to make the t-shirt penetrate you. If we're talking a 2-inch stretch, then it'll make things less messy, but no less lethal.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:10PM (#31803742)

      Two inches of penetration... Sounds like a job for me!

    • Re:How elastic? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:11PM (#31803754)
      Actually the elasticity of these things change with the among of force applied. When you try to punch these things hard (just like a bullet does) they seem to rigid. But when you try to handle them with less force, like try to slowly pull or push them (just like when you try to wear them), they seem to be really elastic.

      So your question should be rephrased as how elastic it is, when a bullet strikes it? Is is strong enough to distribute the force of the bullet through out your torso and not cause a serious dent?
      • Re:How elastic? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mister_playboy (1474163) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:28PM (#31803848)

        Actually the elasticity of these things change with the among of force applied. When you try to punch these things hard (just like a bullet does) they seem to rigid. But when you try to handle them with less force, like try to slowly pull or push them (just like when you try to wear them), they seem to be really elastic.

        Sounds similar to the way a cornflour and water mixture [wikipedia.org] works.

      • by kehren77 (814078) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @10:51PM (#31804362)

        Actually the elasticity of these things change with the among of force applied. When you try to punch these things hard (just like a bullet does) they seem to rigid. But when you try to handle them with less force, like try to slowly pull or push them (just like when you try to wear them), they seem to be really elastic.

        So your question should be rephrased as how elastic it is, when a bullet strikes it? Is is strong enough to distribute the force of the bullet through out your torso and not cause a serious dent?

        Good... the slow blade penetrates the shield...

      • by Khyber (864651)

        In other words you're asking if this textile can act as a non-newtonian fluid?

        We've already done that with micro glass orbs in some specialized package, just cover that with this stuff and you'd have a fairly awesome method of protection from high-speed impacts.

    • Re:How elastic? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by magarity (164372) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:13PM (#31803766)

      That's exactly why bulletproof vests have metal plates in them; to help spread the energy. And ribs still get broken. That's why the hope is to make lightweight vehicles, not better bulletproof-wear.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AHuxley (892839)
        "hope is to make lightweight vehicles"
        South Africa had them for years via its many years of bush wars.
        The main change is BAE is selling real tech to the world based on its new licensing deals.
      • Re:How elastic? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by LBt1st (709520) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @12:15AM (#31804910)

        This would have more uses then just people getting shot at. Anyone who may take a blow from something could benefit. Like construction workers, police, perhaps animal handlers, motorcyclists.. If they make gloves there would be even more uses.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by modecx (130548)

        Ye old flak vests had metal. However, in my experience, no modern vests have metal plates at all. If a vest has a metal component, it is usually kept in a pouch *on the front* of the vest, where a bullet simply passes through, to be absorbed by the kevlar/aramid/textile component--offering virtually no benefit against bullets or their blunt trauma.

        What it does, however, is give protection against stabbing and puncture weapons, which traditional vests alone do not protect against. Even then, the metal insert

        • by bhiestand (157373)

          You must be a cop ;) not sure if you were deliberately leaving ceramic plates out of the discussion, so I'll bring up the differences a tad

          Vests can have metal or ceramic plates, or they can be made entirely of something like kevlar. Global security has a pretty good List of Body Armor Classes [globalsecurity.org] that explains them.

          Plates are almost always removable because that just makes the most sense in so many damned ways (as I'm sure you know). Here's a cheap-o type III with optional removable steel plates: GatorHawk T [afmo.com]

      • by shaitand (626655)

        That would be great if true but the reality is that steel plates are added because Kevlar only prevents penetration of low cal projectiles. If you add the plates (which aren't always steel) you can increase the rating to include some armor piercing shells and higher cal ammo.

      • by smchris (464899)

        Yeah, you die from the trauma instead of the blood loss. Nonetheless, I obviously want one like every other nerd reading this article.

    • Re:How elastic? (Score:5, Informative)

      by XiaoMing (1574363) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:15PM (#31803778)

      I think "bulletproof t-shirts" is just a bit of verbal hyperbole from the reporter, albeit fitting in regards to the process that led to the creation of this material.

      The main breakthrough of the process is that the third strongest material in the world, which was previously only accessible in a ceramic (read: brittle and crystalline) form can now be formed around templates of carbon fibers (the aforementioned, t-shirts baked to perfection).

      In other articles, the main emphasis is definitely on this new stronger material being an improvement on current ballistic fibers such as Kevlar.

      Popsci article:
      http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2010-04/armored-t-shirts-contain-boron-carbide-nanowires?cpage=1 [popsci.com]

    • by tomhudson (43916)

      Hey, if it keeps the bullet from penetrating, it's got to be an improvement.

      My question is - does it resist tasers? If so, I'd like to order one with "Go ahead, taze me, bro!"

      That would be a HUGE seller for demonstrations, students in libraries, passengers at airports, etc.

      • Re:How elastic? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jwsm[ ]e.com ['yth' in gap]> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @10:52PM (#31804372) Homepage Journal

            Nah, it would only increase the use of force. "The tazer didn't work, so we shot him in the head."

            Bullet proof vests are only good if the bullet his your chest. It doesn't help in other areas.

            In reality, "bullet proof" materials are only good at spreading the energy out. They're worthless against more focused forces. It may stop a 9mm (blunt tip), but it won't stop a .223 (sharp tip), and probably won't do much against the electrodes of a tazer, or a knife. That's why they make rifle plating to go into kevlar vests. They're heavy, but they'll help protect against more serious rounds. With serious rounds (like a .50 BMG), you can't carry enough armor to help you, and even if you did, it can only displace the energy so far. If it was able to prevent the round from piercing the armor, you'd simply be crushed by the force.

            Best advice for not getting killed by bullets? Don't get yourself on the wrong end of a firearm. I've managed to be safe wearing regular t-shirts as protection for over 30 years, because I've never put myself in the way of a weapon. :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by tomhudson (43916)
          Next: Reactive Armour T-Shirt!!! I'll be RICH!!! (or dead).
        • by skaet (841938)

          I've managed to be safe wearing regular t-shirts as protection for over 30 years, because I've never put myself in the way of a weapon.

          This may hold more weight if you elaborated on your line of work or hobbies. If nothing in your ordinary routine involves firearms then I could claim this also.

          I'm a 26 year old student studying graphic design and multimedia development with no real hobbies outside video gaming. Other than shooting hares with an air rifle on Dad's farm I've had little contact with real firearms, and I've manage to be safe wearing regular t-shirts as protection for almost 30 years!

          • I think that was his point.
            • by h4rm0ny (722443)
              And I think skaet's point was that staying safe by not getting shot at isn't applicable to everyone's line of work. I.e. The GP saying "just stay out of the way" isn't going to help a soldier or a police officer much.
        • That's assuming you can always control your circumstances -- you can't. Life is risky.

      • That would be a HUGE seller for demonstrations, students in libraries, passengers at airports, etc.

        I could see some airtravelers buying it not realizing that if a terrorist did attack, he wouldn't be shooting them. Demonstrators usually are facing clubs and gas, but I guess some might be interested there too.

        What kind of students and what kind of libraries though are you thinking of?!?

    • Considering how obese we are getting in the West these days 2-inches of penetration probably wouldn't pierce the fat layer. Hah, and people say obesity is a problem!

    • by dbIII (701233)
      Elasticity is actually the important bit - the energy of impact goes into deforming the material instead of just being transmitted to what is underneath.
      Remember that it doesn't have to be thin and skin tight. Just being lighter than a big pile of Kevlar is a huge bonus. Some sort of padding or layers of air just to give the stuff room to deform before it hits skin and bone should work.
    • by JWSmythe (446288)

      This is Slashdot you're writing on. The median group here can sustain a 2 inch penetration and barely bleed. It'll only bruise their fat.

      The question is, what kind of force can it take? I know body armor is rated for various forces. Not much is going to stop a 50cal BMG, but I'm sure it would do a good job on a .22 shot from 100 feet. Then again, a cheap leather jacket would do the same thing. :)

      [ducking]

      • by Khyber (864651)

        "but I'm sure it would do a good job on a .22 shot from 100 feet. Then again, a cheap leather jacket would do the same thing."

        Shit, since LR .22 are so hard to find with a steel core nowdays, you can just stop it by flexing the muscle you have in your body. Look like you went paintballing.

        • by mrjb (547783)

          "you can just stop it by flexing the muscle you have in your body"

          Whoa. You mean I can dodge bullets? Or that after I practice this and I am ready, I won't have to?

      • Actually, 22LR is a rather potent round! Penetration beyond 13" [brassfetcher.com] is possible with 22LR in an 86mm long barreled pistol. Denim and leather jackets add little in terms of protection, but even level II will easily stop the 22LR.

        .
        Yes, one of my jobs is related to design and sourcing of bulletproof clothing, typically from Chinese factories for South American clients. I get to shoot gelatin, mannequins and all sorts of things for a part of my living!

    • Re:How elastic? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Terminal Saint (668751) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:40PM (#31804706)
      Penetration obviously isn't ideal, but having the bullet contained by the shirt would still be a preferable outcome to outright penetration. One of the reasons the Mongols wore silk armor was that when struck by an arrow, the arrow would often fail to pierce the silk. This made removing arrows much easier and cleaner, which meant less downtime for wounded fighters.
    • It isn't going to help much if the bullet has enough force to make the t-shirt penetrate you. If we're talking a 2-inch stretch, then it'll make things less messy, but no less lethal.

      That's why you wear a bullet-proof armor underneath the t-shirt.

    • by GooberToo (74388)

      It isn't going to help much if the bullet has enough force to make the t-shirt penetrate you. If we're talking a 2-inch stretch, then it'll make things less messy, but no less lethal.

      Actually, this is exactly why most people who are shot while wearing modern vests typically have broken ribs and/or other bones. There are only a small number of ways to effectively and pragmatically stop a bullet. One is to deflect it like an armored vehicle. The second is to completely absorb the energy by means of a sacrificial material, such as ceramics. These materials are typically only good for stopping a bullet or two. The third is to prevent penetration and to slow the round as quickly as possible

  • by PatPending (953482) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:09PM (#31803728)
    My parents visited the University of South Carolina and all I got was this stupid t-shirt.
  • by glwtta (532858) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:11PM (#31803746) Homepage
    ... Molten Boron!
  • How does an "advancement" [popsci.com] turn into a "finished product"?

    From the (5 day old) pop-sci article:

    Outside experts have deemed the approach promising, if not yet ready to replace Kevlar or conventional bulletproof materials. But the boron-carbide nanowires already show some material improvement over more brittle boron-carbide composites.

    Even if a super tough but flexible fabric were made, then they would still have to make it rigid upon impact.

  • by CompressedAir (682597) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:19PM (#31803800)

    Molten Boron!

  • Not bulletproof. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ricken (797341) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @09:26PM (#31803834)
    Yet TFA says nothing about this armor being bullet-proof, as this slashdot article clearly states.

    Only that “We should be able to fabricate much tougher body armors using this new technique. It could even be used to produce lightweight, fuel-efficient cars and aircrafts.”
  • ...is aircraft.
  • by nacturation (646836) * <nacturation@@@gmail...com> on Saturday April 10, 2010 @10:20PM (#31804176) Journal

    Xiaodong Li, lead researcher on the project...

    They still make bullets out of lead?

    • by BryanL (93656)

      I think the implication of this is that the t-shirt will only stop lead bullets.

    • by Corbets (169101)

      Xiaodong Li, lead researcher on the project...

      They still make bullets out of lead?

      Actually, they might be implying that the researcher is made of lead.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is my wife's pot roast. If I can ever figure out how she converts an entire roast into carbon nanotubes we're gonna be rich!

  • Any nethack player knows how important a piece of armor the t-shirt is.

    Blessed scrolls of enchant armor for the win.

  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:21PM (#31804588)
    The Huns wore silk to protect themselves in battle. There were no bullets back then, just arrows and blades. While the arrows could still penetrate the flesh, they often did not cut through the silk which made it easier to remove the arrows and stem the bleeding. BTW, like tee-shirts, silk is imprintable -- "We're on the run, we're lotta fun, we are the Huns!"
    • by Fruny (194844) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @02:45AM (#31805628)

      The Huns wore silk to protect themselves in battle. There were no bullets back then, just arrows and blades. While the arrows could still penetrate the flesh, they often did not cut through the silk which made it easier to remove the arrows and stem the bleeding. BTW, like tee-shirts, silk is imprintable -- "We're on the run, we're lotta fun, we are the Huns!"

      Yes, that's actually true! They also wore silk scarves to prevent neck chops, because "there can be only Huns!"

  • Does this mean you could construct Batman's body armor in reality? A full-body flexible armor suit like one of those cow-hide things some motorcyclists wear? That would be nice, to say the least. At the moment you're limited to aramid-weave clothing, this takes knives but doesn't stop bullets or blunt force.
  • Borons (Score:3, Informative)

    by Prikolist (1260608) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @01:29AM (#31805266)

    Ugh the writers of the article (and, consequently, the slashdot user) wrote a badly worded description. I was surprised as I never heard of any particularly strong allotrope of boron. If you actually read the whole thing, it's boron nanowires that give the strength. Key word: nanowires. Researchers used boron, but there are plenty of different materials to make nanowires out of. And it is the particular properties resulting from reinforcing materials with nanowires that give the 'bulletproof' strength.

  • shirt logo (Score:4, Funny)

    by binaryseraph (955557) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @01:45AM (#31805336)
    I REALLY hope the first shirt they make has the Superman logo on it. Not to be cliche or anything.
  • Why not buckypaper (sheet of carbon nanotubes) instead of this?

  • by RedShoeRider (658314) on Sunday April 11, 2010 @07:30AM (#31806726)
    I think there's a good deal of misunderstaning about bullet resistant soft body armour on here. I've seen two posts so far that say that the shape of the bullet has something to do with defeating a vest, as well as a bullet being "tangled up" by the material. Neither is true.

    Bullet resistant soft armour works because of the strength of the individual fibre and how its woven. It also has to do with the friction coefficicent of each fiber. Generally, it's woven in a waffle or checkerboard pattern for each layer. There are lots of layers, too...20 or 30 is common. When a projectile strikes the fabric, the crossed fibers lock against each other (this is where the friction coefficient comes in. Two Kevlar fibers crossed at 90 degrees will not want to move). So, in theory, one layer could stop a low-energy bullet. However, it would still be fatal to the person wearing it because of the amount of energy transferred to them. So, by using multiple layers, that .38 or 9mm round's energy is spread out over perhaps 5 or 6 inches. It's still going to hurt like hell, but you'll live to tell the tale. Current NIJ spec for the backface deformation of a vest is something like 12" of clay, which translates to something like 4 or 5 inches of compression in a human. It's like getting hit with a baseball bat swung by a AAA player.

    So why does bullet shape have little to do with it? Even a pointed bullet deforms on impact; the sharp point isn't going to get through more than a layer or two before it deforms flat. The threat rifle rounds offer is that there is just vastly more energy then a pistol round. All of these materials have a failing point, and even if the bullet was stopped, the amount of energy transferred to the wearer might be lethal anyway. That's why rifle-rated vests (something to stop a .223 or a 30-06) have trauma plates, which is a 1/4 inch (or thicker) ceramic plate. It's heavy, uncomfortable and unbendable, but it'll stop just about any reasonable threat.

    Sure, we could come up with a list of unreasonable threats, but in reality most shootings are with lower energy handgun calibers (9mm/38spl/25acp/32acp), which a standard IIA vest will stop without breaking a sweat.

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