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BULLETPROOF

ROBERT SPEYER IS PROTECTING SOLDIERS WITH CERAMICS

illustration showing body armor placement on soldierThis armor consists of two parts: a ceramic strike face and a fiber-reinforced polymer backing. The exceptional degree of hardness of the strike face was developed using a process that sinters (consolidates) boron carbide powder compacts under carefully controlled thermal and atmospheric conditions. That phase is followed by compressing with a high pressure/high temperature gas. The end result is a boron carbide ceramic with no remaining porosity and very high hardness.

My ceramics research group at the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering investigates novel methods for making body armor strike faces for use by the military and others.

We currently study boron carbide, the third-hardest material on Earth, and our research has resulted in patented techniques for making highly effective armor. One outcome of our efforts is Verco Materials LLC, an Atlanta-based startup that produces strike-face armor for personnel protection as well as for ongoing research and development.

The most critical quality of effective body armor strike faces is hardness, meaning resistance to permanent shape change when a focused compressive force is applied. Hardness is the key to preventing the armor from flowing out of the way when struck by high-speed projectiles. We have produced lightweight ceramic plates that can stop an armor-piercing rifle round traveling on the order of 2,000 mph—a capability that affords a high degree of protection for U.S. soldiers in battle zones.

Robert Speyer

Robert Speyer is a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering.

Energy from the bullet damages the armor, but stops the bullet. The armor plate must be replaced, but has protected its wearer.

digram showing what happens to bullets when hitting armor

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