Rice University Develops 3D Printed Polymer Tubulanes That Can Stop Bullets

    Rice University Develops 3D Printed Polymer Tubulane Structures That Can Stop Bullets (111)

    Image credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

    Rice University has published an article telling about 3D printed ultrahard polymers that the University’s Brown School of Engineering researchers are experimenting with. The sophisticated construction of these cubes is based on tubulanes, “theoretical structures of crosslinked carbon nanotubes predicted to have extraordinary strength“. They claim that this structure is as hard as diamond and can stop bullets better than solid materials.

    Rice University Develops 3D Printed Polymer Tubulane Structures That Can Stop Bullets (3)

    Closeup view of the structure of 3D printed tubulanes. Image credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

    Rice graduate student and lead author Seyed Mohammad Sajadi and his co-workers 3D printed these cubes and tested them by firing projectiles on them. Although the exact type, material and weight of the projectiles is not mentioned, the Rice University article tells that their velocity was 5.8 kilometers per second which is equal to whopping 19,000 fps. The tubulane cubes proved to have about 10 times better projectile stopping characteristics than the solid blocks made of the same material. If solid blocks cracked similar to bulletproof glass, the projectiles fired at tubulane blocks were stopped in the second layer of the structure due to the strength of the material and the highly compressible nature of tubulane blocks.

    Bullet impact damage on a 3D printed tubulane block and solid polymer cube made of the same material. Image credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

    Here is a video of a compression test published by Ajayan Research Group of Rice University showing how these blocks deform and collapse but don’t crack under pressure.

    According to Rice University, tubulanes are scalable structures and can be made to any size. If such structures indeed prove to excel in stopping real bullets and if they can be produced at a reasonable cost, they will be a highly valuable material for all branches of armed forces and can be used for making anything from infantry body armor to armor for vehicles of all kinds. It could allow having the same ballistic protection at much lighter weight of the armor plates or a much more advanced protection at the same armor weight.

    If you find this subject interesting, you may also like to read a couple of other TFB articles telling about other advanced materials called Composite Metal Foam and Metallic Wood.


    Mike Williams. (2019, November 13). “Theoretical tubulanes inspire ultrahard polymers“. Rice University. Retrieved from: https://news.rice.edu/2019/11/13/theoretical-tubulanes-inspire-ultrahard-polymers/

    Images by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

    Hrachya H

    Managing Editor

    Being a lifelong firearms enthusiast, Hrachya always enjoys studying the history and design of guns and ammunition. He also writes for OvertDefense.com and SilahReport.com
    Should you need to contact him, feel free to shoot him a message at [email protected]