- Toughest Material Ever Is Stronger than Kevlar, Stainless Steel
- Stronger than stainless steel and even Kevlar, a new nanomaterial is lightweight and inexpensive. Possible applications range from reinforced steel to lightweight body armor and bulletproof glass.A few months ago, we wrote about a high-tech exoskeleton that could be used by soldiers carrying heavy loads. Now, a new extremely strong, lightweight material could vastly improve that skeleton. A team of Israeli scientists has created a printable nanomaterial that boasts not only the toughest organic structure known to man, but also is lightweight and inexpensive to produce.
Created by scientists at Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, the new material is made up of millions of microscopic nanospheres. The spheres are self-assembled from N-tert-butoxycarbonyl (Boc)-protected diphenylalanine molecules. In their unprotected form, these molecules form the plaquelike substance in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.
The tiny nanospheres range in size from 80 nanometers to just 2 microns—that's 40 times smaller that the diameter of a human hair. When assembled, the spheres become tougher than any other organic substance, even bullet-proof Kevlar.
The tiny nanospheres range from 80 nanometers to just 2 microns. Despite their size, when assembled, the spheres form the toughest organic structure known to man."When we applied force to measure these particles, diamond probes were the only thing that actually made an indentation," said Itay Rousso from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. "It's quite astonishing that you can get such a strong material made of biological ingredients."
The scientists suspect that the new material works in a similar way to Kevlar. They theorize that the strength comes from the molecules' planar form, as well as various electron interactions.
"It's an open question, what gives rise to these extreme mechanical properties, but the spheres are very highly ordered," Rousso said.
Possible applications for the material include lightweight, inexpensive body armor for military and police use. The scientists even theorize that printable body armor may be feasible some time in the future.
"In principle it may be possible," said Ehud Gazit, a scientist at Tel Aviv University and a co-author of a new article in the journal Angewandte Chemie's international edition.
"But we are thinking of more straightforward uses: to improve the mechanical properties of composite structures, such as ceramics and bulletproof glass," he added.
"I think this is an amazing discovery," Kenneth Woycechowsky, a scientist at the University of Utah familiar with the research, told Discovery News. "The rigidity and stiffness of these spheres is unique, and surpasses any other known organic molecule, even Kevlar."
"We have several patents and it is being licensed, so we hope to see it on the market soon," said Gazit. "But it always takes more time than one expects. Kevlar was invented in the 1960s, but only in the 1980s did it become incorporated into body armor."