When it comes to protection, Kevlar has long been the standard for body armor. The heat-resistant synthetic fiber was discovered in 1965, and it’s high tensile strength-to-weight ratio makes it five times stronger than steel. It has many uses, but its most well-known application is in body armor, where it has been essential in bulletproofing soldiers, law enforcement, and others in security-based professions. And yet, Kevlar is only a stepping stone compared to the capabilities offered by graphene, which could take body armor to new level of protectiveness.
Graphene’s major advantage over Kevlar is that it is 200 times stronger than steel, a substantial increase in strength over the popular body armor material. Not only that, but it is lightweight: graphene is made up of a single layer of carbon atoms formed together in a honeycomb lattice-like formation. The single layer means that graphene is one of the thinnest materials in the world. Graphene is not only strong, but its thin and flexible, making it much more versatile than Kevlar.
Researchers have not let graphene’s protective capabilities go unnoticed. Experiments at the City University of New York demonstrated a taste of how graphene can revolutionize body protection. They created a diamene (two layer) graphene foil that was so strong even a diamond tip was unable to perforate the material. Two atomic layers of graphene is still thousands of times thinner than even a single hair, but features such protective strength. This new form of graphene could act as flexible protective coatings to be placed on top of body armor, further increasing its strength. Interestingly, the experiments discovered that this ultra-hardening effect only occurs when two layers of graphene are used, and extra layers are shown to lessen the material’s effectiveness. Nevertheless, the defensive capabilities of the two layer graphene coating is remarkable.
In other experiments, there are some who are also attempting to improve body armor by combining graphene with other materials in order to utilize its capabilities. Graphene’s full potential is difficult to bring out on its own. As a result, scientists have found a way around this by creating graphene composites that give us access to aspects of graphene’s properties. A research team at Imperial College created a company, Synbiosys, to test compositing graphene with silk to create an extremely lightweight, flexible and extremely strong material that can be used in body armor. Their tests have shown great promise: they have begun to successfully create the composite material and continue to develop prototypes for real-life application.
Graphene is a tricky material. For one thing, it is extremely difficult to mass produce, making it hard to foresee the widespread use of graphene in body armor. In addition, we have yet to unlock all of the material’s secrets. For instance, why does graphene get weaker when adding more layers? Before graphene can change body armor and other other products for the better, it has a number of challenges to overcome.
But scientists and researchers have already begun to see the fruits of their hard work begin to pay off, and we are continually making advancements in graphene use. The diamene graphene foil, graphene and silk composite, and the numerous recent achievements in graphene research prove that we are not far off from a graphene-based world. For body armor, this represents greater safety and comfort for those who face danger in the line of duty, a worthy advancement for humankind.