Bullet-Proof T-Shirts in the Works


Well, sort of…

A Kit Up reader sent along this fascinating article about research being done at the University of South Carolina on creating fabrics with nano structures that could increase ballistic resistance.

Check this out…

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.

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 , 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, said Li, who led the group from USC. That flexibility is an improvement over the heavy boron-carbide plates used in bulletproof vests and body armor.

I wrote about this kind of potential for carbon nanomaterials over at Defense Tech a couple years ago. My great friend and body armor innovator David Woroner quipped that nanoscience would eventually lead to a tank that you could lift with your hand.

Of course, that's a long way off, but if manufacturing could catch up with the science, that's possible.

The cool thing about this B4C-infused T-shirt material is its potential application for flexible armor systems. Now, the story doesn't say anything about ballistic resistance, but you could see how maybe sandwiching some of this material together could yield a flexible plate.

Hat tip to CF for the gouge…

  • Rick

    Why with China? Sleeping with the enemy? What are they thinking?

  • Ryan

    Agree with Rick. Strange choice. Cool stuff regardless.

    The problem with collaborating with China on a project like this (or really any R&D project in the defense sector) is that while our government is only capable of producing a limited budget and passing that through Congress (and I acknowledge that 0.5 trillion is a lot of capital), the Chinese government has the ability to essential allocate funds to whatever it wants, whenever it wants. Furthermore, SOEs in the manufacturing sector make it possible for the Chinese government to couple this R&D with progress in manufacturing to more efficiently develop this technology for mass production. Democracy is, as Churchill said, better than all the other systems of government, but it has its deficiencies; a more centralized state has the ability to pursue long-term goals, to redirect funding with little transparency, and to manipulate the industrial and commercial sectors for its own ends. In conclusion, we should be careful who we share our R&D with (granted, we probably share a lot more than the average citizen would believe with China), because other countries might have better capabilities to expand upon those developments.

  • Kolton

    Wait, so its not a bulletproof T-shirt, its a hard strip of boron carbide made from T-Shirt scraps? The only pliability mentioned is that it ‘could be bent.’

    Wearing it just might feel like someone applied WAY too much starch, eh?

    Still, very cool idea. Also, I agree with Rick — why China? I’m sure there are plenty of other countries that could have made a significant contribution to this project.

    If this takes off, China can take it for themselves while we bicker about the implications for a few years. Apply that concept to any situation involving China, Defense, Military, or Technological Advancement and tell me if you don’t get chills. Who’s to say China’s not already dedicating their own team to the project independently? The project flops on the US side and China turns around and sells the idea back to the states in a few years. Oops!

  • I do not understand why China is allowed to help develop anything with potential to help the US Military. Thanks!

  • Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution

    From: James Graham

    From: S STEELE

    As a widow of a military retiree, who stood with her husband for over 20 years while he served this country (which was the greatest in the world until this Congress and President took over), I have to say I agree. Shirley

    As a retired military man that have given over twenty-seven years of my life to my country, I truly feel that what this
    Country needs most is a new amendment to the Constitution . I am recommending that we add the 28th amendment to the Constitution of the UNITED STATES.

    For too long we have been too complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens had no idea that Congress members could retire with the same pay after only one term, that they didn’t pay into Social Security, that they specifically exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed (such as being exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment) while ordinary citizens must live under those laws. The latest is to exempt themselves from the Healthcare Reform that is being considered…in all of its forms. Somehow, that doesn’t seem logical. We do not have an elite that is above the law. I truly don’t care if they are Democrat, Republican, Independent or whatever. The self-serving must stop.

    This is a good way to do that. It is an idea whose time has come.

    Proposed 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution:

    “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Congressman, Senators and Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Congressman. Senators and Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States”.

    This 28th amendment to the Constitution of the UNITED STATES Will apply to all passed, present and future
    Congressman, Senators And Representatives.
    Just think of all the money this would save the tax payers!!!!!

    I think the Senators, Representatives or Congressman that comes out strongly for this will be our next President.

    HTCM USN Retired James A. Graham E-Mail address is ( jagraham@charter.net ) Please forward !!!!!!!

  • Edward Goelz

    Some people got a Raise, I DID Not …

    I will send this out every month until election time, just as a reminder. If everyone remembers, we can make a difference.


    Your U.S. House & Senate have voted themselves $4,700

    and $5,300 raises.

    1. They voted to not give you a S.S. cost of living raise in
    2010 and 2011.

    2. Your Medicare premiums will go up $285.60 for the 2-years and you will not get the 3% COLA: $660/yr. Your total 2-yr loss and cost is -$1,600 or -$3,200 for husband and wife

    3. Over 2-yrs The House & Senate each get $10,000 raises

    4. Do you feel SCREWED?

    5. WILL your cost of drugs – doctor fees – local taxes – food, etc., increase? You better believe they will!

    . They have a raise and better benefits. Why care about you? You never did anything about it in the past.
    You’re obviously too stupid or don’t care. No offense; just making a point!

    6. Do you really think that Nancy, Harry, Chris, Charlie, Barnie, et al, care about you?




    It is ok to forward this to your sphere of influence if you are finally tired of the abuse.
    Maybe it’s time for the……..

    Amendment 28
    “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United
    States that does not apply equally to the Senators or Representatives,
    and Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators or
    Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the
    United States .”

    Let’s get this passed around, folks – these people in Washington have brought this upon themselves!!! It’s time for retribution. Let’s take back America.
    If you don’t forward this to all your friends you’re just part of the problem of national apathy.

  • byawn byawned

    An apparently interesting story but it’s not about tee shirts that are bullet proof, or even too much about the way that reporters believe that “nano ” is as impressive a vogue word as “digital” used to be.

    The writer is using very imprecise and obvious ploys to snare us into reading about an interesting but still rather mundane and not new use of textiles.
    It’s watered down pap.
    Interesting to have a story that is not only too weak to do much but misses the target anyway.
    It’s ironic, given the fact that even if a teeshirt stopped a bullet from penetrating, the energy from the projectile would still be dispersed in a small enough area that the wearer would be disabled with a seriously caved in ribcage.

  • Gig

    Nice idea, but it’s really just a novelty. Bulletproof T-shirt? Not gonna happen. Kevlar body armor works on the same principle…it’s a bunch of layers sandwiched together; each layer by itself is lightweight and flexible, just like the boron carbide “cloth”, but by itself won’t stop a bullet, so they need to be sandwiched together. But hey, if they can get something lighter than the plates we have now while keeping or increasing the ballistic protection, why not?

  • Bullets do not “knock people down.” At point blank range, a .308 will move a person a couple of inches, assuming the armor stops the bullet–there are test videos available going back 30 years of this.

    Backface deformation is an issue, but it depends on the material and the projectile how much there is. If the fabric also has non-newtonian properties, it could provide some limited but effective ballistic protection.

  • James

    I wonder if anyone is experimenting with carbon nanotubes

  • From a strategic point of view why would we fight a war with China? We killed a million Chinese in the Korean War. And now China owns a quarter of our national debt. The Air Force may think that it could fight a war with China, but we will never fight a ground war with China for rather obvious reasons. Our army is too small to fight the Chinese, only 0.057% of the American people are in the American ground forces (Army and Marines). It simply does not matter that we are working with the Chinese to develop this fabric. We are no more likely to go to war with China than we are with Switzerland.

  • Adam

    I believe it to be more benificial not to seclude ourselves from a potential threat and to hide in the corner playing with a chemistry set. Human knowledge belongs to the world. The implementations of this material go way beyond a bullet proof t-shirt. By being able to mass produce a nanotechnology cheaply and make it affordable, there is the potential for so many greater things that could increase the standard of living for so many. Think about when we can start making structures using the practices and discoveries form this research project. It will usher in a new era of construction and fabrications playing on the worlds most abundant resource, carbon.
    If being an isolationist worked, we wouldn’t be the superpower in the world that we are today.
    We can’t look at it as sharing potential military secrets with the enemy, have you ever been struck with a bullet in a vest? Even if the bullet can’t pass through, it will still cause major damage to your internals. But the ideal of nanotech will fuel our society for the next couple hundred years!
    It’s like a kid spending all day building a model. The model isn’t going to win first prize, but the kid who made it might end up being the engineer that invents a new building strategy.

  • Charles Million

    Everyone should get a bumper sticker/yard sign that says FIRE THEM ALL Nov. 2010

  • tim

    Probably because china is the worlds largest producer and consumer of cotton. so their scientist one of whom who has an office adjacent to mine know a hell of a lot about cotton.

  • Ronald Nelson

    R&D with China is counter productive… America has already given China to much of her technology. Under Bill Clinton our nuclear arsenal was compromised and China was given access to our nuclear weapons technology… among other highly sensitive items.

    China is not our friend and remains a stead fast anti-capitalist state. She has no real concern with violating copyright law or stealing technology for it’s own advancement.

    Giving China access to research in America is foolish if not dangerous to our national security. It should be ended but will not under the present adminsitration… or Congressional leadership.

  • Dustin

    Awesome concept and it would be invaluable to people on the ground. Reminds me of stuff from video games. Crysis to be exact. This is off the actual subject but I just couldn’t help myself. I just love how they used the two biggest tools in the Army to pose for the picture in this article. the female in particular lol.

  • Axis and Allies

    Sweet concept that could lead to better body armor down the line. The idea behind this is to one day have body armor that is very flexible and can also stop high caliber rounds and shrapnal.

    If china fought now like they did back in the korean war, with human wave attacks, u.s. Soldiers would just use the m134 and obliterate them. I think we could win a war with china becase we would model our stragety basically off of the gulf war and iraq stragety, gain air superiority and then bomb the hell outta them untill they are too weak to repell a ground attack. All it takes is to compare our military training, equipment, and leadership to the chineses and see that even though they have more troops, ours are better trained and better equiped.

  • D. Wasson U.S.M.C.

    watch the video “why wear your body armour” i believe he was army, one gent with a hellva lot of grit, he jumped up (sorta kinda, after all he had just been hit with a 7.62 sniper rifle) and moved to the other side of his hum-vee. Now you know he hurt like hell for the next 2 months, but he was hurting not dead(a fact that was not lost on his mama) i say keep your friends close, your enemies closer(china) And a new amendment?? outlaw the folks that donate to campain funds for some big company to sway their opinion,or pass a law that helps said company, what do they call them?? I call em cockroaches! There’s your new amendment!

  • C wolf

    Nano body armor is funded at $50m and notionally in the 2020 plan.

    Like any other new tech, has to be tested and manufacturing processes developed.

  • C wolf

    Although facts are irrelevant to the perpetually angry folks, the COLA by law are based on the Consumer Price Index.

    If the CPI doesn’t go up, then no COLA.

    Takes about 30 seconds to check your facts.

  • Pastadawg


    It seems like anytime that someone urges caution when doing business with China, they’re immediately tagged as either “Isolationist” or “Protectionist.” “Free Trade” doesn’t mean that you have to be a sucker, or should put up with your national economy being raped. We may be doing business with China, but thinking that China is our friend is like playing Three-Card-Monte and believing the dealer is on your side!

    For the comments about going to war with China, why would China want to go to war with us when our government will gladly sell off our strategic interests (Long Beach Naval Shipyard), and our citizens can’t wait to sell their children into economic slavery to save a few cents at Wal-Mart?

  • Gu Xeuxung

    I understand the trepidation about working with the Qin.

    China, is critical at this stage of evolution due to its manufacturing over 60% of the daily use products for the USA. It would be best to make China our ally, as opposed to Russia, or France.

    They have human rights issues, but that is not our problem. What about all the issues with Africa? No one cares. Africans produce nothing, and if they had no oil, the world would turn its back on Africa.

    Think Globally, because its better to be allies with the big dogs, even if they bite occassionally.

  • Ken Brandt

    Keep China out of it. I don’t understand your lack of
    America first thinking?
    Haven’t you heard their Communistis..Daaaaaaaaaa


    GOOOH.org is the Get out of our house organization. We need to vote out all incumbents, everyone of them. Let no entrenched politician be re-elected. This will cost the lobbyists billions to re-establish their contacts and hold, then we do it again, and after 20 years, we will have cleaned out most of the crap. Its either than or leanr to speak Chinese.

  • Huet

    This fabric, backed with d30 polymer armor could be lightweight, flexible, and highly protective.

  • Irene Park

    If I soak my tee shirts in boron and put them in the drier, will I have bullet proof tee shirts?

  • andy

    Does anyone else feel that nipple chafing would be a serious problem?

  • J.C.


    Vote. Them. All. Out.

    It’a a crying shame 300 million citizens can’t control their 545 employees

  • G.G.

    Sounds great but have they shot at it yet?

  • Shawn James

    Everyone seems to want China out of it, but have no problem with Switzerland or South Carolina. Hm.

  • LTC Mikie

    China, among all other nations is the least respectful of patents, trademarks and intellectual property. Ideology aside, partnering with China is like giving a robber the keys to your house.

    Their favorite MO, other than outright espionage, is to buy a single licensed product, reverse engineer it and manufacture it free of fees or R & D costs, using cheap, if not prison slave labor.

    When will we ever learn?

  • Lee

    WTF? china? why not south korea? hahaha

    hope they come out with this while im still in :D

    tired of carrying around those damn sappy plates.

  • Norman

    1. Boron compounds are highly toxic.
    2. The manufacture of Boron-Graphite rods was ended due to that fact.
    3. In the 1980s I worked on Engineered Composite Materials and we abandoned the Boron materials.
    4. With that in mind, what of the material shed due to high velocity impact, is it inhaled, forced into the tissue or carried deep into the body if penetration occurs does it pose a health hazard to those who wear it much less those that manufacture it?
    5. We need to look at ways to encapsulate or bind these materials so that they don’t do by toxic effect what the bullet failed to.

  • Cody

    America first wtf w/ china we need to help us first not the asians

  • Rick

    Just a coupla comments about the shirt that could actually make it something usable:
    1. If this material is actually able to prevent a bullet (need to figure out calibers it can stop) from penatrating then you could use a light weight polycarbonite (aka F-117 is made from some incredibly strong plastic) inserts to diffuse and absorb the impact.
    2. As far as the health risks associated with inhalation of microscopic tissues after impact… you could enclose the material in gel like material that has a rubber or t-shirt skin on the outside.
    Of course, this is all a moot point if the material isn’t actually capable of resisting a bullet from penatrating. But if it is, a bullet resistant vest could go from the current 20-25lbs to 1-2lbs. Thats a step in the right direction from my view.

  • Jay Dee

    To all those wondering why the Chinese are involved. Simply because they got the smarts that we, unfortunately, lack. Don’t believe that? Look at the names of the people making all the discoveries in almost all the scientific fields, making the breakthroughs in you-name it studies. Look at the number of people they have graduating from universities compared with us. Our people are more interested in computer games and the like. Sad

  • Nathan

    As Norman pointed out Boron is highly toxic and hazardous. Boron fibers are like very strong miniature needles. If handled they can bore right through the skin, break off travel through the circulatory system reeking major havoc on the human body. Manufactures following even strict handling protocols have had cases of Boron related injuries. Once this stuff is in your system good luck getting it out. A famous line from Flight Director Gene Kranz during the Apollo 13 emergency, “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” could equally apply here. Using a material just because it is strong without considering the long term health damage may ultimately make the problem much worse. Involving the Chinese in this research is industrial strength stupid. What’s wrong people, haven’t we had enough with antifreeze tainted pet food and lead painted children’s toys? Do we really want to give our military something that will slowly kill them as well?

  • Donald Shnyder

    With the newest sniper rifle that can group the shots at 16 inches from 1.3 miles, one would need to pull the T-shirt up over his head and peek though holes.

  • I absolutely love this blog!!! I have recently became a twilight fan and this has helped me a lot. keep up your work, You’re awesome!

  • USNVet

    FIRE the GOP… the PARTY OF NO !

    Party of NO Health Insurance Reform


    A Real party of NOPES

  • Herman W. Hill, Jr.

    Sounds like a plan! But my concern is “impact trauma”! If the T-shirt is effective in displacing the impact, then it will definitely save lives. If not, the mere impact would create just as much lethal damage as the round would by penetrating the T-Shirt and the military man/woman. Just how can this challenge be neutralized to the point of survivability???? That one thing worries the be-Jesus out of me!


    That would be a great asset for our troops. But lets get rid of that ridiculous picture above this article!!!! Looks like a muggshot from a womens detention facility!!!

  • This article is misleading. You start with a photo of military personnel wearing the Army Combat T-Shirt which is not bullet-proof, hasn’t been treated by any chemicals, and isn’t even related to the study mentioned in your article.

  • Phil Baker

    Anyone who thinks that China, because of it’s totalitarian state is better and smarter at military product R&D and manufacturing than the US, is simply clueless, and maybe maliciously guilty of misdirection. Ever heard of DARPA? They do not need to get Congressional approval of every proposed product; and the defense budget is plenty adaptable, and immense enough, to fit countless new products into… BTW; who has Stealth fighters and bombers, the world’s best fighter, most modern satellite system, GPS (in the process of an incredible upgrade) As a retired US Army officer with 25 years of service, I have first hand knowledge of that I speak about.

  • Josh Streeter

    I think this is great, but a tank you can lift with your hands?! That isn’t practical because something that light could also be taken away by a strong wind.

  • Forrest

    What is wrong with you guys. China is not as bad as you think. Look at the North Korean Situation, I mean they threaten to take away supplies to the NK if they don’t disarm. I’m not sure if NK has but, if they believe that China will they may have no choice but, to disarm. China is on our side. We of the USA are the citizens of the single superpower in the world. We can handle any situation no matter what odds there are against us. We are the strongest military force on the face of the Earth. We need not worry ourselves about this situation. We employ generation 5 weaponary and have no need to fear any dangers. Terrorists are cowards and should be seen as less than dirt!!!

  • Jeff

    Get informed, Rick… China is actually a leader in nanotechnology. Believe it or not, I was knocked over when I first looked into this. They are pouring ungodly amount of money into material science, and it’s producing results… I think Thompson Reuters did a study on what the Chinese are focusing on and their patent levels, and the category that really stood out and above other countries is, tada, nanotechnology. Them Chinese are leapfrogging in this area.

  • Jeff

    Why cite Churchill? Who the fuck is Churchill? An allegedly good leader, yes, but of a second-rate, then-fast-declining power. How about listening to our founding fathers on what they had to say about democracy? Look into it: and it’s not good. Adams, Hamilton, Washington, Franklin, and others were all extremely derisive toward democracy. In fact, Franklin said they wanted a Republic, that is if we could keep it. They didn’t want democracy, and that’s a fact.

  • Jeff

    Riiight… My grandfather was in Korea, and he’s taught me since I was young to never, ever underestimate the Chinese… Then again, before we even begin taking out their air defenses, they would have tanked our economy with a click of the mouse.

    Now sober up…

  • michael

    How How How do we allow them to lead in this space is beyond me

  • Rex Brynen

    *sigh* Not the greatest start, Courtney. Stripped of all the unnecessary verbiage it amounts to the rote “Palestinians don’t deserve statehood because it wouldn’t be a pretty place” objection, and could have been made in a paragraph. You’ve also failed to address all the pretty obvious moral, strategic, and political counter-arguments.

    The folks (of all political stripes) who discuss these things seriously soon get pretty tired of monochrome partisanship, and veer away from it. You could do a lot better.

  • A famous line from Flight Director Gene Kranz during the Apollo 13 emergency, “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.” could equally apply here. Using a material just because it is strong without considering the long term health damage may ultimately make the problem much worse. Involving the Chinese in this research is industrial strength stupid. What’s wrong people, haven’t we had enough with antifreeze tainted pet food and lead painted children’s toys? Do we really want to give our military something that will slowly kill them as well?