If you've been a grunt, then you probably have a love-hate relationship with body armor. You love having it in a firefight — it can save your life by stopping or slowing bullets and fragments — but you hate how heavy it is — it's often around 25 pounds for the armor and outer tactical vest (more if you add the plate inserts to stop up to 7.62mm rounds). It's bulky — and you really can't move as well in it. In fact, in one firefight, a medic removed his body armor to reach wounded allies, earning a Distinguished Service Cross.
Marines in Interceptor Body Armor (USMC photo)
Imagine if the body armor were just another part of your clothes, like a light jacket. Imagine not having to haul around those extra 30 pounds. Well, troops may not have to imagine much longer. According to a release from the Advanced Science Research Center at the City University of New York, body armor could soon have the thickness of just two atoms. This is due to how graphene acts under certain conditions.
By applying pressure at the nanoscale with an indenter to two layers of graphene, each one-atom thick, CUNY researchers transformed the honeycombed graphene into a diamond-like material at room temperature. (Photo by Ella Maru Studio)
"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," lead researcher Elisa Riedo, a physics professor at CUNY said in the release.
The Torso and Extremity Protection System" or TEP, sheds about five pounds of weight from the IOTV, and also adds a wide degree of scalability that commanders can make use of depending on threat level and mission. (Photo by C. Todd Lopez)
This could have profound implications for personal protection and for creating protective coatings to reduce wear on essential components, like tires. While the new armor is still years away, troops can look forward to a lighter load, thanks to graphene, at some point in the future. That will be a huge weight off their minds — and bodies.