Boron Carbide and Silicon Can Make Body Armor More Impact

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What Is Boron Carbide

Boron carbide, also known as black diamond, has a molecular formula of B4C, and is usually gray-black powder. It is one of the three hardest materials known and is used in tank armor, body shields and many industrial applications.

Improvement of High-grade Body Armor

“In the past 12 years, researchers have been looking for ways to reduce the damage caused by the impact of high-speed bullets on armor made of boron carbide.” said Dr. Kelvin Y. Xie, Assistant Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering . “Our work has finally solved this unmet need. This is a step towards designing an advanced body armor that will defend against more powerful guns in battle.”

Boron carbide is called “black diamond” and its hardness is second only to cubic boron nitride. Unlike cubic boron nitride, boron carbide is said to be easier to mass produce than other armor materials such as silicon carbide, and is harder and lighter, making it ideal for bulletproof vests and other armor projects.

The Lack of Boron Carbide Body Armor

According to Texas A&M University, the main disadvantage of boron carbide is that it can be quickly damaged when subjected to a high-speed impact. Xie said in a statement: “Boron carbide is really good at stopping bullets moving at 900 meters per second, so it can effectively block most pistol bullets. But if it exceeds this critical speed, boron carbide will suddenly lose its trajectory. Performance has become less effective.”

Scientists know that high-speed vibration will cause a phase change in boron carbide, one of which will change its internal structure and present two or more physical states at the same time. The impact of the bullet transforms the boron carbide atoms from a systematically arranged crystalline state to a disorderly arranged glass state. This glass-like state weakens the material integrity of the contact area between the bullet and boron carbide.

Advantages of Boron Carbide Plus Silicon

Xie said: “When boron carbide undergoes a phase change, the glassy state creates a path for the propagation of cracks. Therefore, any local damage caused by the impact of a bullet can easily spread throughout the material and cause more and more damage. .”

Previous work using computer simulations predicted that adding small amounts of other elements might make boron carbide less brittle. To simulate the initial impact of a high-speed bullet, the researchers made controllable dents on a boron carbide sample with a diamond tip. Then, they used a high-power electron microscope to observe the microscopic damage caused by the impact.

Xie and his collaborators found that even if the silicon content is small, the degree of phase change has been reduced by 30%, which significantly reduces the damage caused by indentation. Although silicon can well enhance the properties of boron carbide, Xie said that more experiments are needed to know whether other elements can also improve the properties of boron carbide.

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