Scientists have created a new material called diamene, which promises to be as flexible as tin foil but hard enough to stop a bullet. The study, led by Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) at The City University of New York (CUNY), was published in Nature Nanotechnology.
It showed how two layers of graphene (each one-atom thick) could be used to make a diamond-like material upon impact at room temperature. There are potentially many uses of such a material, from water-resistant protective coatings to ultra-light bulletproof armor.
“This is the thinnest film with the stiffness and hardness of diamond ever created,” said Elisa Riedo, professor of physics at the ASRC and the project's lead researcher, in a statement. “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.”
Diamene is soft and pliable until pressure is applied, when it becomes much more rigid. So if the diamene is shot by a bullet, for example, it would prevent it passing through. It was first theorized using computer simulations in this study. Then, an atomic force microscope was used to apply pressure to two-layer graphene, finding an agreement with the calculations.
Interestingly, the graphene-diamond transition was found to only occur with exactly two layers of graphene. Any more or less and it didn’t work.
“Graphite and diamonds are both made entirely of carbon, but the atoms are arranged differently in each material, giving them distinct properties such as hardness, flexibility and electrical conduction,” said Angelo Bongiorno from CUNY, part of the research team. “Our new technique allows us to manipulate graphite so that it can take on the beneficial properties of a diamond under specific conditions.”
Graphene is the “miracle material” that was essentially first discovered back in 2004, made by stripping graphite into single layers of atoms. Since then scientists have proposed a number of novel uses for the material, from clean energy to night vision lenses. Now, body armor can seemingly be added to the list.