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by Larry

August, 2010

Able to Stop a Speeding Bullet... Look... It's Super-Silk!

Per Dr. David Kaplan of Tufts University, speaking in an interview broadcast 8/4/10 on National Public Radio (NPR), new research shows that whereas synthetic Kevlar, currently the main fiber used in bullet-proof vests, does not function as most desired when it is compressed, natural silk fiber has both the toughness of Kevlar, that it is quite strong if one pulls it, but also great strength when it is squeezed.

Bodo Women Rearing Silkworms - by Gautam Chandra Baro (public domain).
In addition, for the same amount, silk is the lighter material. As a result, researchers are looking into using silk in lieu of Kevlar for the vests needed by diverse security forces to halt high speed incoming bullets and shrapnel. It is thought such vests would be lighter in weight, and so more comfortable for wearers, while also offering better overall protection. Other kinds of shielding gear could likely benefit too from having silk as the main constituent.

This is hardly the first proposed use of silk for armor. As Dr. Kaplan has pointed out, Japanese and Chinese body armor from thousands of years ago utilized the strong, tough, light in weight protective attributes of materials made largely from silk.

Due to the garments' superiority against opponents' arrows, Genghis Khan, 1162-1227, whose Mongolian invasions, rule, and policies of succession resulted in an empire spread through Mongolia, China, Korea, and much of Eurasia, once issued silk vests to all his horsemen.

Various kinds of silk have been considered in the researches, including from spiders, but the natural product from silkworms so far seems best.

Dr. Kaplan thinks it likely then that in the future armor for police and military forces will once again be made much more with silk materials.

Primary Sources:
Mongolian Armour.
In Wikipedia, last updated April 5, 2010.
Silk Could Offer Benefits to Bulletproof Vests. On National Public Radio (NPR), August 4, 2010.

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