Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tech update

Ordinary T-shirts could become body armor

A simple cotton T-shirt may one day be converted into tougher, more comfortable body armor for soldiers or police officers.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina, collaborating with others from China and Switzerland, drastically increased the toughness of a T-shirt by combining the carbon in the shirt’s cotton with boron – the third hardest material on earth. The result is a lightweight shirt reinforced with boron carbide, the same material used to protect tanks.

Dr. Xiaodong Li, USC College of Engineering and Computing Distinguished Professor in Mechanical Engineering, co-authored the recent article on the research in the journal, Advanced Materials.

“USC is playing a leading role in this area. This is a true breakthrough,” Li said, calling the research “a conceptual change in fabricating lightweight, fuel-efficient, super-strong and ultra-tough materials. This groundbreaking new study opens up unprecedented opportunities.”

The scientists started with plain, white T-shirts that were cut into thin strips and dipped into a boron solution. The strips were later removed from the solution and heated in an oven. The heat changes the cotton fibers into carbon fibers, which react with the boron solution and produce boron carbide.

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