Graphene has been a major topic of research in the past few years. It seems like every week another scientist in another part of the World is having another breakthrough with another variation of this unreal material. The latest iteration is proving to have bullet-proof properties, and it looks like… nothing.
Is that a screen protector for your iPhone? No, it’s the next-generation bullet-proof vest.
Graphene passes 97% of visible light because it’s only a single-atom thick at the atomic level. Stack one hundred layers, and now, you’ve got a material ten times more bullet proof than steel.
I think it’s safe to say this is what happens when scientists read sci-fi comic books, and I’m not complaining. But maybe it’s not so romantic that the “real iron man of the future” might look like a nerd laminated from head to toe with a Camelback, not a cool alcoholic in an iron suit.
Graphene’s power is sourced from the carbon atom. It’s comprised of 100% carbon, nothing else, which is so flexible in the way it bonds with other atoms, adding a carbon atom into any material vastly changes its properties. Yet, graphene is made of nothing else but that. It’s the magic atom.
Petroleum, diamond and Kevlar are three fascinating materials that feature carbon. We also have carbon inside of us, and so does every living thing.
Graphite is also made of sheets of carbon, like graphene, but I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s far from bullet proof. Well, the two share almost an identical atomic structure – a lattice layer of carbon atoms. But graphene exists as a two-dimensional structure and graphite exists as a three-dimensional structure.
In graphite, a layer of carbon atoms bond to the layers above and below it. But those bonds between the layers are weak enough that, when any force is applied to graphite, those bonds immediately break and the layers fall off. Yet, each one of those layers – when not bonded to any other layer – is a sheet of graphene.
The chemical bonds holding together the sheet are far stronger than the bonds holding together the layers of sheets in graphite. Thus, it’s just a matter of stacking those sheets – about 100 of them – and suddenly, you’ve got something that’s far more bullet proof and infinitely more clear than steel. Just make sure the layers don’t bond to each other, or you get good-ol’-fashioned graphite instead.
An article in Science explained the results of an experiment by the researchers at Rice University and the University of Massachusetts. In the name of science, not Science, they fired small bullets at a sheet of graphene at speeds up to 2,000mph. After some math sorcery, the researchers determined you’d need about 8 to 12 times more energy to punch through a similar mass of steel. Kevlar gets closer than any other material in its bullet-proofing capabilities, but it’s not even close.
Now, let’s raise a glass to the future: laminated nerds with laser cannons. Know more.