Windows into the Imagination

Friday, June 17, 2011

Science Fact or Fiction: Liquid Armour

 Clark Kent steps into a phone booth (though he might find it a challenge to find one these days) shedding his mundane business suit and reemerges as our skin-tight costumed superhero. He streaks off into the clear blue skies, breaking all known laws of physics, to do battle with the super villain of the day. Bullets bounce off him like matchsticks...wait a minute...

It might be fun to be a superhero who can bend bars with your toenails, but what I want to know is...what the hell is his skintight costume made of?

Those bullets aren't just bouncing off his rock hard chest, they also seem to have no effect on his costume. Have you seen Superman finishing off the villain and afterwards look like he's been set upon by a group of crazed Glee fans?

I may not be able to develop superhuman strength, but how about some super flexible body armor I can slip on like a spandex body suit? And mine will be tasteful...

Which comes to our topic for today, liquid body armor.

In the news we see soldiers and policemen wear them, thick, bulky Kevlar vests that cover the torso. Hard to hide and not exactly fashion-friendly.

The technology has been around since 2004, developed at the University of Delaware. It involves a sheer thickening fluid (STF), that under normal conditions has the consistency of applesauce, but once something hard hits it, like a bullet or bomb fragment, it becomes rigid and prevents any projectile from penetrating.

To make liquid armor, STF is soaked into layers of Kevlar fabric, which can then be draped and sewn like any piece of cloth. Four layers of the STF impregnated cloth is more resistant than ten layers of Kevlar and more flexible. Although it is 2% heavier.

The liquid is a suspension of ethylene or polyethylene glycol and nano-particles of silica. Alcohol is added to make the solution less viscous, and then it’s poured between layers of Kevlar. The alcohol evaporates, leaving the suspension behind.

Liquid armor is still undergoing laboratory tests, but researchers are enthusiastic about its possible applications. BAE Systems says we may see the first models in use within two years.


  1. You know, the whole bullet thing never harming superhero costumes never crossed my mind. It's either a testament to the writer that we got caught up in their world enough to suspend disbelief, or we were (happily) distracted by the actor playing them. There are several action-adventure/historical mystery writers who are using liquid body armor and other weapons that actually exist. As a sci-fi fan, I'm always amazed that these things don't get more attention.

  2. Hi Melissa

    Maybe a little of each :) Which writers? I'd be interested in taking a look at them.