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Bulletproof vest prototype with inserted ballistic plate containing developed 
ceramic-graphene composite material. Foto: V. Puchý

Bulletproof vests can be safer thanks to SAS scientists

12. 11. 2021 | 724 visits

Protective armour is an essential part of the equipment of the security forces and is usually made of high-strength materials. Not only their durability is important but also their weight which can affect the performance of individuals. A team of scientists from the Slovak Academy of Sciences developed a new lightweight nanocomposite ceramic material that achieves increased impact resistance while maintaining the same thickness. After successful tests in an accredited testing laboratory, the researchers created a prototype of a protective vest, but the new material can also be used in the production of armoured vehicles or construction.

Most ballistic protection elements, such as bulletproof vests or helmets, are currently made from multiple layers of Kevlar®, Twaron®, Spectra® or Dyneema® fibres, which prevent the bullet from penetrating the body. However, targets can suffer from blunt force trauma after the strike, such as strong imprints or serious damage to critical organs. Therefore, scientists from the Institute of Materials Research SAS in Košice were looking for an optimal composition of nanocomposites that would dampen projectile impacts more effectively and, at the same time, would not increase their weight.

“We designed several nanoceramic materials and investigated their properties. We managed to significantly increase the toughness of ceramics only with the help of graphene nanoplates. In addition, we observed the mechanisms by which graphene stopped the propagation of cracks and forced them to change direction not only in two but also in three dimensions,” explains Viktor Puchý, the research team leader from the Institute of Materials Research SAS, and adds that even the mixing of a very small amount of two-dimensional materials, including graphene, can dramatically change the properties of ceramics.

Ceramics included in protective vests is nothing new.  Compared to traditional metal materials, it has a high firmness and ballistic weight efficiency and is used for ballistic protection against high kinetic energy projectiles and shards. However, the Košice scientific team is trying to improve it as much as possible.

“We have mastered laboratory production. We can prepare ceramics with better properties than the conventional material available on the Slovak market. While maintaining the same thickness, we can increase its durability, so the soldier does not have to carry such a weight. In the military, when a long distance is to be covered, every gram counts,” adds the materials scientist.

The research brought together scientists across departments of the Institute of Materials Research SAS. The director of the institute, Pavol Hvizdoš, contributed valuable advice, and the current Eset Science Award winner Ján Dusza also applied his many years of experience in ceramics research to this project.

The researchers tested the properties of the newly developed materials in the accredited testing laboratory of the company Konštrukta Defence a.s., which was the main solver of the project. Scientists plan to patent the production process as well as the composition of the new material and will look for possibilities of its efficient production in larger quantities.