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Hi-tech polymer that can stop a speeding bullet discovered

Last Updated: Sunday, November 18, 2012 - 19:38

London: Scientists have discovered a new super polymer material that is stronger than a speeding bullet and could revolutionise bulletproof vests.

The dynamic new compound is able to stop 9mm slugs - a common pistol and sub-machinegun round - in their tracks and seal the holes behind them, scientists at Rice University in Texas found.

The remarkable polymer could revolutionise bulletproof vests for soldiers and police officers, as well as make lightweight, durable aircraft skins and jet engine blades, the Daily Mail reported.

The material is a complex multiblock copolymer polyurethanem, which is a synthetic compound build in the lab.

Ned Thomas, the dean of the George R Brown School of Engineering at Rice, has been pictured holding up a hockey puck-sized disk of the polymer that still contained the bullets that had been fired into it.

"The polymer has actually arrested the bullet and sealed it," he said.

"There`s no macroscopic damage; the material hasn`t failed; it hasn`t cracked. You can still see through it. This would be a great ballistic windshield material," he said.

However, how the material worked was a mystery to researchers.

It seemed to have both glassy properties, which made it strong and hard, as well as rubbery properties, which made it resilient and able to bend and repair itself.

By conducting similar `gunshot tests` at a microscopic level, the scientists found that the polymer actually liquified when it came in contact with high velocity penetration.

Since the polymer actually comprises thousands of barely-perceptible layers, only some of the material liquified, while the rest held its shape and strength.

That means the material is sturdy without being brittle. It absorb shock without breaking or bending.

"After the impact we can go in and cross-section the structure and see how deep the bullet got, and see what happened to these nice parallel layers," Professor Thomas, the lead researcher, said.

"They tell the story of the evolution of penetration of the projectile and help us understand what mechanisms, at the nanoscale, may be taking place in order for this to be such a great, high-performance, lightweight protection material," Thomas said.

The details were published in the journal Nature Communications.


First Published: Sunday, November 18, 2012 - 19:38

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