It seems like a miracle, but it’s true: A simple cotton tee shirt may one day be converted into tougher, more comfortable body armor for soldiers or police officers (or those of us who live in dangerous cities?)

Researchers have drastically increased the toughness of a tee shirt by combining the carbon in the shirt’s cotton with boron, which is the third hardest material on earth. The result is a lightweight shirt reinforced with boron carbide, the same material used to protect tanks.

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.

The result is a fabric that’s lightweight but tougher and stiffer than the original T-shirt, yet flexible enough that it can be bent. That flexibility is an improvement over the heavy boron-carbide plates used in bulletproof vests and body armor.

Engineer Xiaodong Li says, “The boron-carbide nanowires we synthesized keep the same strength and stiffness of the bulk boron carbide but have super-elasticity. They are not only lightweight but also flexible. We should be able to fabricate much tougher body armors using this new technique. It could even be used to produce lightweight, fuel-efficient cars and aircrafts.” It’s about time! (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show).

You don’t need to bring your armored tee shirt to Nashville: It’s a beautiful, SAFE town, filled with musical folks who bring their guitars everywhere with them, so it’s a perfect place to hold a UFO conference. Come join us in that beautiful city on June 25-27 and if you want to find out how much fun we had LAST year, click here.

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