Going to a show in a rough part of town? Don't forget to print your tickets and your body armor.
Scientists in Israel have developed the hardest organic material known to man. Tougher than stainless steel and even the previous record holder, bulletproof Kevlar, the transparent material is similar to the beta-amyloid proteins found in patients with memory-robbing Alzheimer's disease.
The new material could make steel tougher and may also lead to cheaper and lighter body armor.
"In principle it may be possible," to print body armor, said Ehud Gazit, a scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science and a co-author of a new article in the journal Angewandte Chemie international edition.
"But we are thinking of more straightforward uses: to improve the mechanical properties of composite structures, such as ceramics and bulletproof glass," he added.
The new material is similar, but not identical, to the brain plaque linked with Alzheimer's disease. Dozens of amino acids form those beta-amlyoid proteins. The new synthetic proteins only have a fraction of those amino acids and are covered with an additional protective layer to create super-strong spheres.
The spheres are microscopic, ranging in size from about 30 nanometers to two micrometers. The material itself is transparent and easy to manipulate and manufacture.
It is also incredibly tough. Only a diamond-tipped probe could penetrate the material — and to make a dent the probe needed twice the pressure of what it would take to make a mark in Kevlar.
All of these properties means the new material could be used in a range of applications, from bulletproof armor to stronger, lighter steel.
"I think this is an amazing discovery," said Kenneth Woycechowsky, a scientist at the University of Utah familiar with the research. "The rigidity and stiffness of these spheres is unique, and surpasses any other known organic molecule, even Kevlar."
Don't expect to buy an ink jet cartridge of body armor any time soon though.
"We have several patents and it is being licensed, so we hope to see it on the market soon," said Gazit. "But it always takes more time than one expects. Kevlar was invented in the 1960s but only in the 1980s did it become incorporated into body armor."