back to article Oz nanoboffins punt paper-thin flak jacket plan

Astounding news from Australia today, as it appears that yet another unbelievable movie themed breakthrough has been made in gecko-related nanotech. This time, the flick ligged by ink-thirsty boffins is Robocop, rather than Spiderman or The Incredibles. Sadly, we aren't talking here about brains plucked from slain hero cops …


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  1. Bruce
    Thumb Up

    momentum mori

    so unless you're wearing a whole body condom made of this bullet-defying material, any exposed body parts are likely to be shredded by the ricochets? cool. can they be made compulsory for the NRA?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The point about the bounce is that the energy is got rid of with the bullet - no dissipation across or permanent damage to the armour, no blunt impact to the wearer, at least one of which you'd need if the bullet just stopped.

  3. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

    But ---

    you wouldn't have reported it at all if it hadn't been dressed up with the "bullet-proof" bollocks; and the IOP knows this, because the IOP knows well enough how the media functions.

    And the way the media functions pretty much guarantees that no science will ever survive media processing.

    About the only science that does survive is pictures; but then even that's not so much science as data.

    The IOP (etal), of course, are virtually on a hiding to nothing -- their two options are basically:

    (a) no science gets reported

    (b) spin some science into entertaining-sciency-bollocks, and hope.

    So, they got you to notice and report; but all you did was shoot it down in flames. Is that a draw, or did you win?

  4. matt

    Glad you mentioned the flaw in bouncing...

    I was reading the whole article thinking "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction".

    Maybe they are planning on taking potshots at the assailant with the bouncing :)

  5. Damian Gabriel Moran

    if you are going to fight...

    use pillows

  6. David S

    Bloody hell. Did anyone else study A-level physics?

    "The point about the bounce is that the energy is got rid of with the bullet - no dissipation across or permanent damage to the armour, no blunt impact to the wearer, at least one of which you'd need if the bullet just stopped."

    Kinetic energy is (from rusty memory) (Mv^2)/2 and, if you remember, the difference between velocity and speed is that velocity takes direction into account. Now the word "bounce" suggests (to me, at least) a change in direction and, hence, a change in velocity. Which means a change in kinetic energy, which has to come from or go somewhere. In other words, the energy is not "got rid of" with the bullet; in fact, the energy required to "bounce" a bullet back at the same speed would be twice that required to bring it to a stop. (the change in velocity from x to -x is twice the change from x to 0.)

    of course, it's possible that there was some special stuff that was glossed over for the A-level syllabus, and there have been some interesting developments in the umpty years since I sat the exam, but I'm pretty sure I'd have noticed if the fundamentals had been re-written to the extent that everything I've just coughed out of long-term storage was utter tosh...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More Testing Needed

    Could someone just shoot a gecko and see if the bullets bounce off?

    Then we could resolve this debate once and for all.

  8. Anonymous John

    The next step will be to make them invisible.

    So that the enemy won't be able to see the soldiers inside their invisible tanks.

    Er, does this make sense?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old News?

    Wasn't this in the news only last week only with a Cambridge lab having got the technology to weave the stuff out of some 'carbon smoke'?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Now's My Time

    Aha so no is the time for a batman esk figure to be seen atop roofs in australia. Gecko Pads, Rappel Gun and Bullet Proof Cloak! Watch out for any low key billionaires investing in this company and you'll know who the real Bruce Wayne is.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nanotube bullets...

    So, if you made a bullet out of this bouncy nano-whatsit, when would it stop bouncing?

  12. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

    RTFP (Read the fine paper)

    Some points you need to keep in mind:

    - the paper describes a SIMULATION, not an actual test.

    - demo samples of nano yarn and fabric have been made but you can't buy the stuff.

    - nobody seems to have woven enough nanofabric to do a test, so its actual properties are anybody's guess.

    - the simulation assumes the bulk properties of woven fabric are the same as individual nanotubes. This is unlikely.

    - the simulated fabric was designed to stop a 9 mm revolver bullet that delivers 320 J so it won't stop any bullet carrying more energy than that.

    - yes, the IOP should know better than to have hyped this simulation

    Re bouncing bullets. If getting hit by a revolver bullet knocks you over[*] then getting hit while wearing this stuff will still knock you over. If the bullet bounces back on impact then the energy for the rebound has to come from somewhere, so you'd feel a greater impact than if it just stopped and fell to the floor. The only effect from wearing the nanocloth is that your whole chest might be lightly bruised while Kevlar armour would leave you with heavy local bruising or a broken rib and no armour would leave you with a bullet hole. The armour doesn't change the effect on your body of being pushed by a 320 J impact.

    * I wouldn't know if a revolver bullet carrying 320 J of energy is likely to knock the target over. I've never seen a person or simulated person hit by one. I don't believe what I've seen on TV or films for a minute. Thats all faked by stunt men under the director's orders. However, I bet Lewis could answer this point.

  13. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Bow down to our lizard overlords

    Geckos: is there anything they can't do?

  14. Eugene Goodrich

    Everyone untwist their knickers and have some tea

    Boffins are quoted as inventing all sorts of weird stuff with unbelievable claims. It's clear that 1. we haven't got the whole story here and 2. it's going to be a while before they've made anything and tested it so we can see some results instead of speech and 3. when they have made something, it'll probably include some extra details that aren't in the article we just read.

    There are a number of materials that are flexible under normal circumstances but can become rigid on their own under certain stresses or can be made rigid electrically. That wasn't mentioned here, but if that concept can be combined with an extremely springy material, they could solve some of the things we're worried about here, by making the entire garment very temporarily conduct the distribution of force against the wearer.

    But I suggest at this phase of any story the read just say "standard speech-blather to make the boffins feel like they're accomplishing something more quickly than one invention in ten years" and wait until they actually film a test.

    But thanks for the gecko angle. ;)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Martin Gregorie

    never seen anyone get hit with a bullet either, however, if every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then the person firing the bullet would surely be knocked over as well?

  16. John Latham

    Knocked flat

    According to my very rusty physics, since E=0.5.m.v^2, then for a 80kg squaddie stood on a frictionless surface (any ice rinks in Iraq?), a perfectly bounced 320J bullet will near-instantly impart a speed of 2.82 m/s, or about 6.3mph.

    Which is (I think) to say it will be like being run into by someone your own mass at 12.6mph, i.e. a fast run.

    Still, being knocked flat might make you a smaller target.


  17. Ash

    How this could work

    A thick covering of red mercury.

  18. Marvin the Martian

    Standard Reference Gecko

    What I like is that it was not known up to 5years ago how the setae (hairs) on geckotoes worked, then it was published in Nature that it was actually Van Der Waals forces. And now this article acts as if geckos are the standard example for those? Did Van Der Waals just propose the force and say "well... I can't come up with an example" a hundred years ago?

    Publicity whores.

    Of course, the most commonly kept geckos don't even have the sticky fingers (e.g. the leopard geckos). But there's indeed a gecko for everything; colour changing, parthenogenese (virgin birth), flying, frying, you name it.

  19. dermot

    The way this works

    from my understanding they are trying to turn the kinetic energy of the bullet into potential energy-- without imparting much kinetic energy to the wearer. So basically (heavily simplified) they are turning the bullets energy into potential energy via the tensile strength and elasticity of the nanotubules which function similar to a spring. Of course some kinetic energy will still transfer to the wearer, yet this will be a lot less than if it was just a bullet being blocked by a kevlar vest (transferring all of the kinetic energy to the vest). Which is still better than the relatively small change in kinetic energy for the bullet as it pierces an unarmored target (the bullet transfers very little kinetic energy to the target and 'pierces their body, causing ripping because of the fluid dynamics).

  20. Andy Bright

    I hate to be the harbinger of doom

    Gandalf Stormcrow if you will, but am I the only one that sees a problem if they were actually able to pull this wizardry off?

    Let's assume for one fantasy moment that mass-produced bullet bouncing anoraks were feasible. Who wants to suggest how many our beloved police forces will receive, or for that matter, how many squaddies will get kitted out in indestructo gear?

    I would hazard a guess that zero would be the sum total of items purchased for the people we would actually want to see wearing space age anoraks.

    50% would be going to the wonderful 'security' mercenaries that are doing such a fine job winning the hearts and minds on Iraqis, on behalf the real soldiers they're impersonating (right down to identical uniforms and weapons).

    49.99% would be returned to society in the form of bullet proof, organised crime gangs, having been blagged and sold on the black market.

    The other 0.01% will go to marketing campaigns and greasy palm-offs for contracts. They'll look great framed and mounted in offices all around the globe.

    I doubt even officers in high-ranking desk jobs will see one.

    Ask yourself this. If the military spending machine was so benevolent to our serving lads and lasses, why are the parents of these squaddies the ones forking over for the flak jackets that actually work (as opposed to those issued)? Of course the military can't provide these things in sufficient numbers to matter, because oddly, when you go to war, having tax cuts to pay for it doesn't work well for anyone outside of Wall Street.

  21. John Utz

    Bounces to fucking where?

    So, there's the combatant disruption associated with momentum transfer involved in absolutely revectoring a high speed mass, and then there is the question of where it will get revectored!

    Upon impact, the bullet will bounce in a different direction just as quickly as it came in.

    Imagine the possibilities!

    In a MOUT situation, one could then take a shot at any portion of the vest visible to the shooter and then 'bank on' (poor pun) the slug(s) going off into some other portion of the room.

    Pump a few rounds into that vest and shit will be flying in all directions in the room until it finally comes to rest inside something soft and squishy.

    Awesome! What an amazing improvement in combatant survivability.

    Provided that you convince the enemy to wear them...

  22. Vernon Lloyd
    Thumb Up

    Does it Stop......

    ......Head Shots

    If not, not interested ;-)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Carbon nano-tube bullets

    If the bullets were made of nanotubes too would they bounce or stick?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yep, I did A-level physics too.

    And the relevant part is

    F.t = impulse = d(mv) / dt

    So if you've got twice the d(mv) (which is probably going to be the same as m.dv, unless bits fly off the bullet when it hits) then you're either going to get twice the force exerted against the target from a bullet reversing direction as compared to one that just stops and falls to the ground - or if you want the wearer to absorb the same amount of force, you've got to make the slowing-down-and-reversing of a bullet hitting the geckojacket take twice as long as the slowing-down-and-stopping when the same bullet hits ordinary kevlar.

    This is the same principle how crumple zones work to protect you in car crashes: they reduce the force by making the impact last longer. So, it's possible this new jacket could reduce the force - for instance, if the elasticity of the nanotubes is so much greater than kevlar that it takes the bullet four times as long to slow down and reverse, it'll actually only exert half the force on the wearer.

    Of course, it will travel further in that longer time too, and given that this stuff is supposedly so thin, that suggests that it would likely penetrate some distance into your body, stretching the jacket material ahead of it, before the elasticity of the jacket gets enough to ping it back out of you in the direction it came from. And I haven't actually done the math, so maybe the distances we're talking about here are only a matter of millimetres to start with and the further travel will still stop it short before it hits your body, but it should all be work-out-able in theory.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spooky action

    To answer your questions, if the bullet was made of carbon nanotubes then due to quantum entanglement and the requirement for an equal and opposite reaction, the moment the person hit with the bullet falls over then the person who shot the bullet will fall over as well.

    Yours Sincerely

    Chief scientific advisor to the House of Lords

  26. Speedy

    Elastic Scattering

    The carbon nanotube has the highest tensile strength of any material yet fabricated by mankind. Unlike Kevlar, the strategy discussed in this article (did anyone read the source article) is to elastically store the kinetic energy of the incoming round, and then to return the energy to the bullet. A kevlar vest absorbs energy in the breaking fibers and requires multiple layers to prevent penetration. The layers that do not break transmit the remaining energy of the round to the body, painfully, but over a large enough surface area that ideally penetration does not occur.

    A couple of interesting things. The energy not returned to the bullet is dissipated along the length of the nanotube fiber, not at right angles to it. This has to be a good thing. Also, has anyone considered the inherent karmic justice of a bulletproof vest that return the projectile to the shooter at significant ballistic velocities?

    As far as conservation of momentum goes, guys, little common sense here, if a guy can fire the gun and not be thrown backwards, the smaller rebound velocity will probably be manageable for the victims body.

  27. Morely Dotes

    Re: Spooky action

    Best comment in weeks. Well done, that man!

  28. Jon Tocker

    Until I see... or still photos of what happens when a real bullet is fired at a real layer of this nanotube fabric that has been placed against a block of clay or plasticine, I sha'n't be turning handsprings or dancing in the streets.

    I've seen photos of the above done with kevlar armour, both with and without a Sorbothane (tm) blunt trauma pad, and the results are hard to refute - you look at the cross-section of the plasticine and work out if you want your ribs deforming that much. (Sorbothane does wonders for decreasing the deformation, btw.)

    If the nanotube stuff perfoms as expected and only leaves minimal or negligible deformation of the plasticine when struck by a projectile likely to be encountered on the streets, well and good, time to celebrate.

  29. Ron Christian

    "knocked flat"


    According to my very rusty physics, since E=0.5.m.v^2, then for a 80kg squaddie stood on a frictionless surface (any ice rinks in Iraq?), a perfectly bounced 320J bullet will near-instantly impart a speed of 2.82 m/s, or about 6.3mph.

    Which is (I think) to say it will be like being run into by someone your own mass at 12.6mph, i.e. a fast run.

    Still, being knocked flat might make you a smaller target.


    My physics are even rustier, but consider the logic of what you're saying -- any energy imparted by the bullet to the shootee when it bounces off, is identical (or a little less, due to losses) to the energy imparted on the shooter when it leaves the gun. In other words, if the ricochet would knock the victim on his ass, the recoil would also knock the perp on his ass. Since it doesn't, it won't.


  30. Anonymous Coward

    I'm happy to announce the well-deserved demise of the West...

    ...because judging from the level of physics knowledge on display in this thread, most of you are unable to find their own arse in darkness in the worst toilet in Scotland!

    The quantity to conserve during a fully elastic bounce is _momentum_ (a vector of length m*v), and energy loss during the bounce is deduced using E=m*v*v*1/2 on the two objects left in movement after bounce and comparing with the energy that the objects had before bounce. Any lost energy can be assumed to go into deformation of the target's liver. Assume a frictionless surface and the target initially at standstill. Use the kinetic energy of the incoming bullet to make assumption about incoming bullet velocity. Do not consider Special Relativity corrections. You have 5 minutes.

    Yeah, the idea of a bouncing bullet on paper-thin, deformable vests is insanly dumb. A bulletproof vest protects you because it doesn't deform a lot, only so much that it can transform the bullet's energy fully into heat and non-reversible deformation (keeping the momentum of course) but not so much that the target will die due to rupture of inner organs. If the vest is paper-thin, I surmise that it will deform a lot, giving no protection whatsoever, even if it's untearable.

    And no, you CAN'T push someone over by hitting him with a bullet, even if he's standing on one foot. A bullet makes holes, it doesn't punch.

  31. the Jim bloke
    Black Helicopters

    ammo to defeat bulletproof vests already exists

    The technological arms race is simply continuing as per usual.

    weapons technology advances.. defensive technology advances...

    Apart from teflon coating to penetrate armour, the simplest countermeasure is simply to use a bigger/faster bullet.. as per the dumdum article recently.

    Depleted Uranium is used for anti tank penetrators.. AFAIK using it for personal weapons is still (currently) science fiction, but supposedly it converts momentum to heat more readily than conventional metallic rounds.. so if the projectile is stopped by armour the energy still gets through.

    I dont think anyone these days uses a single solution for armour, everything is composites and layered materials with differing properties.

  32. Stuart Van Onselen

    @the Jim bloke

    Sorry, mate, but there is an error in your comment, based on an urban myth (which I only learned about recently myself.)

    Teflon does not help a bullet in the slightest when it impacts a BPV. The "teflon lets it slide between the fibres" is a mis-apprehension based on the common use of Teflon-coated AP rounds.

    The truth is, the Teflon is used to improve things at the gun end, not the target end. Using Teflon reduces friction when firing the gun, leaving slightly more energy for the bullet (instead of wasting it on frictional heat.)

    By the time the bullet hits anything, the Teflon has long since done its job and contributes nothing.

    Buggered if I can remember where I saw this, though. Try Wikipedia. (I wouldn't trust my life to info gleaned from WP, but since neither of us are (hopefully!) ever going to be struck by an AP, tt doesn't really matter. :-)

    As for DU, as I understand it, is useful for two reasons: It's very dense, i.e. weighs more for the same size bullet, so it carries more more energy. Secondly, when it strikes armour, it doesn't "mushroom" like lead, or even steel. It stays sharp ("self-sharpening"), thereby penetrating better.

    Modern tank AP rounds don't even bother with explosive - they consist purely of a very thin, arrow-like tungsten or DU penetrator. During Gulf War 1 such a penetrator went straight through the thick sand berm protecting an Iraqi tank, sliced straight through the 50's vintage tank, and ended up deep in the berm on the opposite side. (This paragraph has nothing to do with the topic, it's just a cool story I had to share. :-)

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The difference between the effect of shooting on the shooter and being shot by the shootee, in terms of physical knockdown is explained by the timeframe.

    Impulse = force x time

    A Kevlar jacket (to stick with actual working tech) has to stop the bullet from "zipping along" to zero in the space of a few mm. Maybe 20mm.

    The force from the bullet being accelerated from zero to "zipping along" is applied over a much longer time frame. first the barrel of even a short pistol is twice the thickness of a vest, and then the shooter's arms flex, spreading the transfer of the force to the shooter's centre of gravity over even longer (or, in a longarm the barrel is 15 x the thickness of a vest.

    Since the Impulse at each end is the same and

    Impulse/time=force, the longer timeframe for the application of a force to the CoG of the shooter means that they will experience a fraction of the physical knockdown of the target if the target is wearing a vest.

    If the bullet goes right through without stopping, the impact will be lessened, depending on how much of the projectile's energy gets dumped into the target.

  34. Jamie Peterson

    Not so dumb after all?

    It's a pretty simple idea:

    if a 5g bullet moving at 330 m/s undergoes an elastic collision (i.e. no loss of kinetic energy) with an 80kg person initially at rest, then after the collision the person will be travelling at about 0.04 m/s (i.e. 4 cm/s) and the bullet will riccochet off at about 329.96 m/s. The target absorbs a mere 0.064 Joules of energy, the same amount as dropping a marble onto your chest from a height of a metre. As Anonymous coward above said (although he/she got the physics wrong too), simple physics - conservation of momentum and conservation of kinetic energy.

    As is clear from the article, this won't work unless you fix the nanotube fibres at the ends, so your armour will have to be very stiff - think a mesh of nanotubes like flyscreen, attached at the points that they cross over, so that any nanotubes being hit by the bullet will pull sideways on the perpendicular nanotubes. The armour would be a shell, not a flexible fabric.

    But these are trifling details of implementation, once the theory proves it can be done....

  35. Johan Struwwelpeter

    Somebody shot me and killed himself

    It's cause the bullet bounced off my jacket and passed thru his head ...

  36. MTT

    @ Jamie Peterson, anonymous cowards,.. aww hell, the lot of you

    There is no such thing as a perfectly elastic collision in modern ballistics. Look it up again, but both bodies need to be non-deformed upon collision. And what's up with all the impulse non-sense. Bullet wounds are about energy transfer, aka you care about force x distance, not force x time.

    When a bullet hits you, some energy goes into deforming the bullet; some goes into deforming you; and the rest is disspated as heat. My guess is that the kinetic energy that is otherwise dissipated as heat remains unchanged with respect to the suit. A component of the energy related to deformation of the bullet also remains unchanged with respect to the load imparted to you, because you have not changed mechanically. BUT, there is a new component to the deformation of the bullet that is proportional to the difference between the storage modulus of the carbon nanotube vest and you. You can think of this like comparing the elastic load on two springs of with differing spring constants. If this difference is small, than the imparted energetic component will be small, resulting in essentially the same ballistic injury as without the other words, you're hosed.

    However, if the difference is large, the nanotubes act like frictionless springs under compression. The energy required to compress the spring rebounds normal to the direction of compression..i.e. back into the bullet. Whatever is not loaded into the nanotube is transferred as a load to your body, and hopefully is small enough that your own viscoelastic tissue can disspiate it without injury.

    i've been a bit sloppy here, so please forgive some rather carefree verbiage. But in general, it is plausible as an idea that you could "deflect" bullets with the proper material. However, i would place bets on ricochet kill vests anytime soon :)

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