Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

New, Lightweight Material to Protect Against Bullets and Other High-Speed Impacts – 2022 WARF Innovation Awards Nominee

Meet an engineering physics team using carbon nanotubes to make armor that’s stronger than Kevlar.

Manufacturers require material that can absorb a high amount of kinetic energy from ballistic impacts to produce protective equipment such as bulletproof vests and tank armor, and air- and spacecraft that can withstand continuous micro-debris impacts. The stronger and lighter the material, the more agility and fuel efficiency it provides.

Materials made of nanofibers have the potential to provide unprecedented performance – surpassing that of lightweight, high-performance synthetic materials such as Kevlar® (DuPont) and ultra-high-modulus polyethylene. Carbon nanotubes possess superior stiffness, strength and energy dissipation. However, the weak nature of van der Waals interactions, which gives the molecule its structure, limits them from achieving greater performance.

A UW-Madison team has developed an efficient way to enhance the inter-fiber interactions in carbon nanotubes. By mixing the nanotubes with Kevlar nanofibers, they have created a material with unprecedented strength. Under supersonic impacts, the strengthened carbon nanotube material had enhanced energy absorption up to 100 percent, far surpassing currently used materials and nanomaterials. The new material also has an ultra-high strain rate, meaning it has high resistance to extreme environments.

Other Videos