Graphene Material Turns Into Diamond-Like Armor When Shot With a Bullet

hexagonal graphene lattice
A hexagonal graphene lattice made of carbon atoms. AlexanderAlUS [CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons

Bulletproof vests of the future could be made of a swank, super-flexible material known as diamene, which hardens to the strength of a diamond the moment a bullet smacks into it.

It's some pretty flashy technology, made possible thanks to the amazing properties of graphene, a wonder-material made from a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in an hexagonal lattice.

Scientists at the Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at The City University of New York (CUNY) discovered the bullet-stopping power of diamene after placing two layers of graphene together. When enough force was applied to these dual-layered sheets, they transformed into an impenetrable diamond plate.

"This is the thinnest film with the stiffness and hardness of diamond ever created," said Elisa Riedo, lead researcher on the project, in a statement. "Previously, when we tested graphite or a single atomic layer of graphene, we would apply pressure and feel a very soft film. 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."

The material works thanks to the atomic structure of the graphene sheets, wherein each atom in the lattice has three electrons firmly occupied in bonds, and one left free to wander about. When two graphene sheets are pressed together by a sudden force, however, those wandering electrons also link up, which just happens to form the atomic structure that makes diamond.

Interestingly, researchers found that this reaction only occurs when there are exactly two layers of graphene pressed together; if there are more than two layers, it doesn't work.

"Graphite and diamonds are both made entirely of carbon, but the atoms are arranged differently in each material, giving them distinct properties such as hardness, flexibility and electrical conduction," explained Angelo Bongiorno, one of the project's researchers. "Our new technique allows us to manipulate graphite so that it can take on the beneficial properties of a diamond under specific conditions."

Aside from its potential use as body armor, researchers are also investigating the unique conductivity powers of the sheets when dented, to see if any interesting new electronic properties are observed. Bulletproof vests might only be the beginning for this remarkable material.

The research was published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.