Polyurethane Might be the Key to Next-Gen Body Armor

A cool new development in bullet stopping tech happening at Rice University.  This from the school’s web site:

A Rice University lab, in collaboration with researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and its Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, decided to find out by creating the nanoscale target materials, the microscale ammo and even the method for firing them.

Ned Thomas, dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice and a materials scientist, holds a polyurethane disk with the bullets it stopped and sealed inside. Thomas is leading an investigation into the characteristics of such materials at the nanoscale.

In the process, they gathered a surprising amount of information about how materials called block copolymers dissipate the strain of sudden impact.

This video explains more:

Long time DT readers will remember the “Dragonskin” issue a couple of years ago.  This polymer tech could render that discussion moot and be a big game changer in the world of personal protection.

(Gouge: Mike Archer)

  • nate

    So is this the same stuff one would use to coat and protect hardwood floors? If so, then could one just go down to the hardware store, buy a gallon or two, pour it in a frame, and make their own bullet proof glass?

    • Jeff

      It’d probably be more involved than that. Layered applications of controlled thickness at varying specific temperature and humidity drying conditions.

    • blight_

      Probably not.

      On the plus side, it might hold up better than bulletproof glass. I note that the example unit didn’t shatter; but I have no idea what was fired into it.

      • FormerDirtDart

        They stated the sample was hit by 9mm slugs. One concern would be at what rate of speed does any penetration occur. If small particles can achieve shallow penetration at low velocity, the material might be worthless as bulletproof glass. Think of wind blown sand and grit becoming embedded in the material, slowly rendering the material opaque.. Not to mention how rapidly that might happen if the material was used on a vehicle, and even more so on unimproved roads and cross country.

    • Thematerialsguy

      Unlikely; they use the generalized “polyurethane”, which is just a type of bonding which characterizes this polymer, the rest of the chemical composition (chemical backbones) are likely very different from your typical store bought urethane coating; which will yield very different material properties.

    • Fil

      Sure, just like how the carbon in your pencil and the carbon on your engagement band are the same thing. Right?

    • tim

      yeah, that’s how it works.

    • Steve

      Not the same stuff Nate. The polyurethane that this article is referring to would be a 2 component system, i.e. a (polymer and catalyst) or hardener if you prefer. Similar to you mixing an epoxy 2 component system together.
      Typically for the properties they are looking for it would be a hot cure system. High end bowling balls are made of castable polyurethane. Currently some Jet planes are using a uniroyal polyurethane 2 component 85D hardness product that is in the same hardness range of bowling balls for their windshields. It keeps geese from landing on the pilots lap.
      My guess is that for body armor its likely that the material (urethane) used would be a softer durometer than windshield material. Maybe not tho, I spose they could mold plates that connect together of harder material. It sure wouldn’t be comfortable to have a rigid jacket to wear.
      Its quite interesting. I produce custom polyurethane components for various industries & now I will have to play with several different scrap parts I have laying around and see if anything I have would work. Might be able to make myself some custom armor. Think I can purchase various weapons and do some R & D and write off the purchase’s?? hmmm.

  • tiger

    I think folks on this board will not be happy till they have Stormtrooper outfits from Star wars to wear. We need light saber resistant Armor!

  • blight_

    Finally, something tech related.

    Under rubber toughening, another wiki article:

    “Many thermoplastics such as polystyrene and PMMA are brittle when stressed, a property which limits applications. A good way of strengthening such polymers is to copolymerise elastomeric chains during manufacture. The elastomer chains form separate phases in the solid, typically 10-20 micrometres in diameter, so that when the material is strained, crazes form at their surfaces, increasing the energy needed to break the material”

    Might mitigate one of the weaknesses of boro-ceramics, which is that they are strong but brittle, and heavy. That said, what kind of weight, density and effective volume of material is required to stop an AK-47 round? Does the copolymer spall?

    On the plus side, polymers can be molded and cast perhaps much more reliably and cheaply than ceramic plates. Curious where it’ll go.

  • TomUK

    I think the keywords here may be ‘nanoscale’ and ‘microscale ammo’. Interesting start, though.

  • dee

    Look at the 1 and 2 minute marks there is no advantage to be gained.

  • Lance

    Interesting for LE but doubt it can stop a 7.62x39mm bullet or a 5.45 or a 7.62x54R with out being VERY VERY THICK. Who knows but I doubt this will blow armor plates away tomorrow. more test need to be done and while interesting I do have doubts on it can stop rifle bullets.

    • Guest

      Whew! Good thing we have Lance here to set things straight. Those damn scientists just don’t have a clue as to what they’re talking about!


      • Lance

        Your a butt-head guest of I know your name on kit up pal. Just saying its a new technology and needs to see how it can work if at all against real weapons from a 9mm or .45 cal pistol. The thickness to stop a AK-47 round may be too thick to wear who knows I dont say this is crap im saying it needs more research before idiots in the army start buying them only to find out in combat it doesn’t work as well.

    • zak

      it’s research, not even a prototype. If we never did any research unless it gave us exactly what we’re looking for today we’d never do research and in turn we’d never make advances.

  • Dillard


  • Gustavo

    What about performance under heat?…

    • thematerialsguy

      That’s actually a great question. Since they claim they are using a block-copolymer of hard and soft segments; that means that the hard segments are below their glass transition temperature, and the soft segments are above it. So depending on these transitions, the mechanical properties drop off may be too significant at elevated temperatures and is definitely a concern.

    • Joe

      I know how your mom performs when under heat…

  • Conradswims

    Body armor that floats! That should be the goal.

    • orly?

      Tbh, Dyneema is buoyant.

  • orly?

    If the Enhanced Combat Helmet is any indication of progress, I am curious on what else could be made.

    • Chris

      Hey speedy, what do you know about ECH???

  • Speedy

    Would they layer it with Kevlar and other stuff, make it lighter then current armour.

    I do wonder if the guy in the photo was holding the disc when it was shot at… that would have been cool to see.

  • stephen russell

    Saw this in the TV show pilot Knight Rider 2008, bullets would hit car & body would absorb bullets like this MIT armor gel.
    Must for DoD & Security alone.
    Cut down on weight??

  • anthony

    I am glad to hear that our company helped to get this safety “polymers”on the market for safety purposes also..

  • fredhandy

    ok good ideer but how about using a ak round our a 45/7.62 round?

  • Lee

    It sounds like it is a hell of a lot better than the armor we had in Nam, where a bullet went in one side and came out of the other to go into your body.

  • Josh

    This tech combined with an underlying layer of a rheostatic fluid could be a very effective body armor capable of protecting places that are basically impossible to protect now – like the armpit area for example.

    • Josh

      A magnetorheological fluid could also be applicable. Interesting stuff.

  • Scott

    To Ward Carroll,__Call Leslie Duke at ballisticsreasearch.com. He’s already manufacturing a polymer based armor he developed. I don’t know how similar it is to the polyurethane technology, but I know it works incredibly well at bullet stopping and capturing. I believe it’s already in use in the field.

  • bobbymike

    We should insure large R&D dollars for materials research. It is incredible what the nano future will hold. That includes energetic materials as well for propulsion and advanced explosives.

  • echo charlie

    So, he said something to the effect that the polyurethane target performed better at stopping the slugs than an equivalent steel target while weighing less than a seventh as much…
    Huh?! That polyurethane chunk looks to be about two inches thick… Anyone doubt a steel chunk a seventh of that thickness would stop the 9mm slugs with zero penetration?

    If polyurethane is a little denser than water as I recall, his factor of seven comment seems to imply an equivalent thickness of steel target is being discussed. Two inches of steel for small arms armor is a lot of steel armor.

    • Steve

      My guess is the chunk of urethane he’s holding weighs in at less than a pound, probably around 300grams. Ive shot FMJ rounds of 7.62 x 36 SKS through a 1/4″ steel plate. It almost kindo didnt go through, it punched a hole through the plate and the projectile (deformed it was) was inches from the hole it punched through.
      So if the urethane he’s holding was 300 grams the equivalent weight for steel would be 2100 grams or 4.6 pounds (at his 7:1 ratio he’s claiming). The sample he’s holding looks to be around 4.5 inches in diameter, so for a steel equivalent of 4.6 pounds the disc would have to be slightly over 1.0 inch thick to achieve that weight. At that thickness my bet is it’d stop anything short of a grenade launcher.
      FWIW I mix castable urethane systems daily, so my guess on the weight of his sample is based on working experience.

    • Doug

      It was a thick sample of polyurethane, but the projectiles were intercepted at the topmost layers.

    • john

      3/8ths AR500 steel stops a .308 with a tiny dent as the impact point. It’d take approx. 40 said rounds in a 7 inch circle to penetrate 3/16th AR 500 ( high hardened steel) AR means abrasive resistant and used as bull dozer blades etc. and armor.
      The totally vague, teckno BS used by the self styled author, tells little of what we need to know; such as wt. per S2 and thickness to defeat a 7.62mm x.39mm AK round.
      . Dyneema and Spectra shield are polymers and been around for 15 yrs. They need a strike plate to stop these rounds, after pressed into plates and they do float and also BURN.



  • Ed

    Best way to Stop a Bullet is to stop making guns the fire them. Then dont sell guns. Im kidding. really.

  • ashurbanipal

    I’d settle for the Master Chief’s armor. (from Halo)

  • scott

    what does this have to do with the polyurethane body armor

  • Maybe, its because of the resistance. Polyurethane manufacturing companies innovations with their products are far beyond our reach because they expanded their knowledge in making many output products using polyurethane. I read in an article that there’s already some companies that manufacture armor made from polyurethane, their products are helm, vest armour etc.