Flexible Graphene Turns Hard as Diamonds When Struck by a Bullet

How’s this for a science fiction premise: Scientists develop an ultralight material that is thinner than aluminum foil and morphs instantly into diamond hardness when it is struck by a bullet or other projectile.

As you may have guessed, this isn’t science fiction at all. Recently, a new research was published where physicists have made a very lightweight, flexible material that can instantly become hard like diamonds are. The material can be potentially used to create an entirely new type of protective coatings for people, vehicles, and even spacecraft.

The research that was published on the Dec. 18 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, made from the City University of New York is describing a new process for creating diamene — flexible, layered sheets of graphene that are becoming hard as diamonds and are virtually impenetrable upon impact. This work was funded by the Basic Energy Sciences Office of the US Department of Energy

Graphene is form of elemental carbon composed of a single sheet of carbon atoms in a honeycomb pattern. The CUNY technique essentially combines two layers of flexible graphene, each one atom in thickness. When the adjoining layers are being deformed by the pressure from the outside, they snap together in order to form a completely new structure with different physical properties.

This is the thinnest film with the stiffness and hardness of diamond ever created,” the lead researcher Elisa Riedo, a physicist with CUNY’s Advanced Science Research Center, said in a statement.

The technique was originally established using computer simulations and later confirmed with laboratory tests, Riedo told Seeker. The transformation into diamond-hardness is happening instantly and it only manifests somewhere around the point of contact. As such, the body armor that is coated with the material is remaining quite flexible even as it deflects the ballistic energy of individual bullets or projectiles.

The lab experiments is showing that this transition doesn’t occur for more than two layers, nor for a single graphene layer. That’s the magic number: Only when two layers of graphene are combined, the material is considered graphite.

Previously, when graphite or a single atomic layer of graphene was test, we applied pressure and feel a very soft film,” Riedo said. “But when the graphite film was exactly two-layers thick, all of a sudden, we realized that the material under pressure was becoming extremely hard and as stiff, or stiffer, than bulk diamond.”

Riedo cautioned that practical applications of the technique are still a good ways off. Further research will be needed in order to explore the methods for stabilizing the process and predicting how the graphite-to-diamond phase transition behaves under different conditions. Reido said that even in a best-case scenario, it is impossible to estimate how long exactly these processes could take.

“It’s difficult to say, honestly,” she said. “We will need investors.”


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