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Bullet-Proof Sheets of Carbon Nanotubes 206

An anonymous reader notes a report on Nanocomp Technologies, the first in the world to make sheets of carbon nanotubes. "In April, [CEO] Lashmore had a mechanical multicaliber gun shoot bullets at different versions of his sheet, each less than a fifth of an inch thick. ... Army tests show the material works as well as Kevlar. The military also hopes to replace copper wiring in planes and satellites with highly conductive nanotubes, saving millions of dollars in fuel costs."
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Bullet-Proof Sheets of Carbon Nanotubes

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  • Anyone know what this is, and if it's anything more that a marketing superlative? The only Google hits for the phrase [] are this story.

    Sounds like marketing-speak for "gee-whiz super-powerful gun", though I suppose that it could be some arrangement of barrels that tests the stuff with various caliber rounds. I'm not sure why one would bother with such a thing.

    • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

      Maybe they used a .357 magnum revolver and invented that term so none of the hoplophobes in the media would freak out ;)

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Despite the fact that the .357 magnum fires both .357 and .38 "caliber" rounds, the reality is, it is not really multi-caliber. .38 caliber is actually .357 caliber. The difference between the rounds is not the width of the bullet, it's the powder charge. The reason .38 is called .38 despite only being .357 inches wide, is because it is a throwback to older days when they measured the width of the shell casing instead of the width of the bullet.

        As for shell length, the .38 shells are mostly empty. The re

    • Its mechanical, like most guns. And there are multiple Calibers, meaning its more than 1.

    • by OrangeMonkey11 ( 1553753 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:32AM (#29466247)

      All or most armor manufacturers use a table top mounted "test gun" that they can change out the barrel and receiver to fire different caliber to test the protective effectiveness of their product. I don't think anyone can buy one of these you have to get them specially built.

      If you ever watch any History or Discovery channel show(s) about fire-arms chances are they show a few of these.

    • There are several rifles and pistols that can be changed to accept different barrels and actions into the receiver. These different parts shoot ammunition of different sizes.

      I would assume this is a bench mounted receiver that can be triggered remotely. Kind of like the mythbuster's Curve a Bullet Robot. This is done to make each shot as mechanically similar as possible and without endangering a human shooter that shouldn't be on the range on an armor defelction test.

      Why not have a bench grip or vise? The h

      • by Tekfactory ( 937086 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:38AM (#29466315) Homepage

        Oh yeah, not to reply to myself, but shortly after high school I did some patent drawings for a cylindrical weapons mount you could load into a 120mm smoothbore cannon and inside the mount you could configure a .308, .50 cal or 25mm match grade barrels attached to an trigger mechanism that could be activated remotely while loaded in the main cannon of an Abrams.

        This was supposed to be used for training purposes using ammo already found in the US Armory stores.

        IIRC they went with a German training aid instead.

    • Anyone know what this is, and if it's anything more that a marketing superlative?

      I can only speculate what they really mean, but the Thompson Center Contender is a single shot firearm designed to allow replacement of the barrel with a new barrel in pretty much any calibre from .17 on up. Which means that one of them, with a suitable pile of barrels (conveniently, T-C manufactures barrels too) can fire pretty much any rifle, pistol, or shotgun round in creation.

      • Contender and ContenderG2 are limited to lower pressure rounds. The TC Encore gets around this, same basic design just stronger.

  • Just wait (Score:5, Funny)

    by ciaohound ( 118419 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:27AM (#29466181)

    "Buy Thompson's Carbon Nanotube Bullets. The only nanotubes tough enough to penetrate nanotubes."

  • by clyde_cadiddlehopper ( 1052112 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:31AM (#29466231)
    In the 1980s I worked in advanced ceramic materials development for Corning. We were pitching insulating sleeves to be cast into cylinder heads. At a meeting with the Ford SVO engineering group, one of their engineers said "The first thing you hear about a new material is always the best thing you will hear about it. After that, the 'yeah, buts' begin." Yeah, but is it safe? Yeah, but is it affordable? Yeah, but will it conduct / dissipate heat? Yeah, but is it environmentally friendly? It takes time for systems to be redesigned around the special attributes of revolutionary materials.
    • You missed one - (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 )
      Yeah, but won't the existing technology develop to do the same job faster and cheaper than this one can be got to market? That's why wood, ceramics, iron and cement are still the base materials of civilisation, rather than titanium, magnesium and carbon fiber.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by GameMaster ( 148118 )

        The only industry I've ever heard of that being the case in is with Memory and IC substrates and logical design. Wood, ceramics, iron, and cement haven't "advanced", significantly to keep their lead over the others. The reason that titanium, magnesium, and carbon fiber haven't overtaken them yet is that we haven't, yet, developed a super-cheap production method for them (similar to the Bessemer process that allowed steel production to become cheap enough for it to over-take iron and the Faber process that

        • by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:28AM (#29466923)

          And to be fair, in some cases the new materials have taken over. Most passenger jet designs are switching to carbon fiber bodies; the cost is high, but the lighter material means that the you need far less fuel on every trip, eventually paying for itself. (Yes, the 787 is having problems in production, but I suspect that's more a matter of poor coordination than any intrinsic weakness in the material.) And the GP ignored plastics, which relatively recently displaced all sorts of time tested materials in the construction of all manner of products. Who's to say that we won't find a way to produce carbon nanotubes cheaply in the next few years?

        • The electrolytic production of aluminum is Hall-Heroult, I believe. There exists a titanium electrolysis system or two, but they're still patent-encumbered. (I've also heard people argue that it's the difficulty in working with titanium rather than the production costs that make it so expensive.)
          • Re:You missed one - (Score:5, Informative)

            by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @01:11PM (#29468365)

            Working raw titanium can be a pain. If you aren't careful, it will gall and go all lumpy.

            It'll catch fire before it melts, unless it is in an inert gas environment. Far right on the periodic table inert, it'll burn in nitrogen.

            On the plus side, you'll have lots of titanium oxide dust around. If you think FeO+Al is fun, try TiO+Al+Fluorite+Calcium Sulfate. It won't just burn through an engine block, it might keep going into the concrete @ 3800 F

        • [] thought you'd be interested.
    • Carbon nanotubes act a lot like asbestos in our lungs. We don't know that it is carcinogenic yet, but in the initial reaction that CNT causes in mouse lung tissue is the same sort of reaction that asbestos fibers cause. It's not surprising because CNT are so similar to asbestos fibers. They are nanoscale fibers, they are highly resistant to chemical degredate. So I think it would be safer to assume that it is a probably human carcinogen and behave like it is so that 20-40 years from now we don't have hu

  • Wow! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Drunken Buddhist ( 467947 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:39AM (#29466341) Homepage

    ...That's some tough sheet!

  • A fifth of an inch thick? When I initially read "sheets of carbon nanotubes" I was envisioning something on the order of micrometers thick. I'm sure this is still progress, but the story isn't as exciting as I was initially expecting it to be.
    • A fifth of an inch thick? When I initially read "sheets of carbon nanotubes" I was envisioning something on the order of micrometers thick. I'm sure this is still progress, but the story isn't as exciting as I was initially expecting it to be.

      I know basically nothing about armor and weapons and whatnot...

      But, while 1/5" may not be as thin as you imagined, it may very well be thinner than what is currently required. How thick a sheet of kevlar is necessary to stop a bullet?

      • by lwsimon ( 724555 ) <> on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:30AM (#29466953) Homepage Journal

        It doesn't list the calibers used in TFA, so hard to be a judge. I shoot 1/4" steel plates all day with a .223 without much damage to them - though a lot depends on the bullet type. Lead bullets will splash, lead-nose jacketed bullets will shatter, steel-core will damage or penetrate. Step up to a .308 and good ammo, you're going to need 1/2" or more to have a chance of stopping it.

        A .50? The only time I've shot steel with a .50 BMG, it penetrated the 3/4" steel plates I had like they were paper.

        If I had to guess, they're talking about handgun rounds, though - in which case, it sounds pretty equivalent to Kevlar. Kevlar isn't just a "sheet", though, as a single sheet is easy to penetrate - its more about the way they interlock when layered, causing the bullet to apply its force to a greater surface area before penetrating.

    • Also FTA they were surprised it even worked
  • Vests? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bryanp ( 160522 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @10:42AM (#29466369)

    If they could make it work it sounds like it would be a great material for a bullet resistant vest.

    Although getting hit with a taser while wearing one ...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Nobo ( 606465 )

      Although getting hit with a taser while wearing one ...

      Electrical charge stays on the outside of a conductive sphere.
      See (

      So In theory, wrapping yourself in a conductive nanotube mesh would prevent the charge from hurting you.

      And wrapping yourself in tinfoil would protect you from the police even better! ... Waaaait a minute.

  • According to wikipedia the density of nanotube is not that much different from Kevlar. Kevlar ~1.4, nanotube ~1.3.

    So where's the advantage over Kevlar? It could be that the ballistic performance is much better than Kevlar allowing you to make armor with less material but otherwise this isn't an obviously better material than Kevlar.

    In ballistic applications Kevlar will probably continue to win based on cost.

    As for structural uses, back in the annals of history aramid fiber (Kevlar) was thought to be the Nex

  • Violence (Score:5, Funny)

    by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Friday September 18, 2009 @11:47AM (#29467185)

    This is so typical. Someone discovers how to make a sheet of carbon nanotubes, and the first thing they do is shoot at it. Where is the study telling us how huggable these nanotube sheets might be?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PitaBred ( 632671 )
      Someone's always shooting at someone else. If this sheet blocks bullets effectively, it means that whoever is behind it remains huggable. I'm all for that.
    • Yea... where is the squeezably soft nanotube toilet paper.

  • DuPont may soon have trouble shooting it down.

    Evil. Evil.

  • More bad than good? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by saurongt ( 1639029 )
    Carbon nanotubes are known to be toxic. Wouldn't having them next to your body in a situation where you are likely to bleed be kind of unnerving? []
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      From the article you linked:

      "Ever since, it was presumed that any needle-like fibres around 20 micrometers long with an ability to persist in the body could have similarly dangerous effects. Donaldson and colleagues have now shown this holds true for carbon nanotubes."

      These fibres are supposed to be 100 um long. That may make a difference. Also, they're all glued together rather well. It's certainly not a given that they're also toxic.

  • ...founded Nanocomp in 2004. They developed a patent-pending system, controlled by a computer, that could produce large quantities of one-millimeter nanotubes. This was long enough to start making yarn and sheets.

    So they are still making 1mm long fibers and sewing them together to make strands and sheets. I wonder how much stronger a continuous strand would be? It seems like there is a lot of potential to make these things even stronger.

  • A fifth of an inch? Who uses a fifth? It's bad enough that they aren't using a metric measurement system, but then they use fifths of inches...
  • Nanocomp Technologies announces that their new nanotube technology is being applied to solve the "Sheryl Crow one square of toilet paper" problem. []
    Specifically, the technology is intended to address "those pesky occasions where two to three could be required".
  • Whoever came up with that name sucks. From this point forward, carbon nanotube sheets are called mithril.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.