Everyday T-Shirt Will Be the New Body Armor

Most people who grow up to be police officers or soldiers do it because of one childhood dream- they wanted to be like Superman.

Maybe one day they can be like the man of steel by wearing a simple t-shirt that has been converted into a tougher, more comfortable form of body armor.

A group of researchers at the University of South Carolina worked together with researchers from China and Switzerland to increase the toughness of a t-shirt by combining the carbon in the shirt’s cotton with boron, which is the earth’s third hardest material. The outcome was a lightweight shirt reinforced with boron carbide, which is the same material used to protect military tanks.

“USC is playing a leading role in this area. This is a true breakthrough,” said Dr. Xiaodong Li in the Advanced Materials. He also commented on the research by calling it “a conceptual change in fabricating lightweight, fuel-efficient, super-strong and ultra-tough materials. This groundbreaking new study opens up unprecedented opportunities.”

Dr.Xiaodong Li, USC College of Engineering and Computing Distinguished Professor in Mechanical Engineering, co-wrote the article about the research in the journal, Advanced Materials.

The researchers began with plain, white t-shirts that were cut into thin strips and put into the boron solution. Later they took out the strips and heated them in an oven. Heat changes the cotton fibers into carbon fibers, which react with the boron solution to make boron carbide.

The end result is a fabric that is lightweight but stronger and firmer than the original t-shirt but still as flexible so that it can be bent. It can also block almost all ultraviolet rays, according to Li.

“The currently used boron-carbide bulk material is brittle,” said Li. “The boron-carbide nanowires we synthesized keep the same strength and stiffness of the bulk boron carbide but have super-elasticity. They are not only lightweight but also flexible. We should be able to fabricate much tougher body armors using this new technique. It could even be used to produce lightweight, fuel-efficient cars and aircrafts.”

Source: University of South Carolina

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