Nearly all of us have come into contact with graphene, but probably haven’t realized it. The remarkable material comes from graphite—a more commonly known carbon that’s used in pencils—and has proved to have many applications since scientists discovered it in 2004. Most recently, a team of researchers found that it may even be used to save lives.
Despite graphene being remarkably thin, it’s strong enough to protect from a bullet, according to a statement describing the new research. Scientists found that by arranging two layers of graphene together, it becomes durable enough to handle impact at room temperature. They’ve named the new material “diamene.”
“This is the thinnest film with the stiffness and hardness of diamond ever created,” study author Elissa Riedo, a physics professor at The City University of New York (CUNY), said in a statement. “Previously, when we tested graphite or a single atomic layer of graphene, we would apply pressure and feel a very soft film. But when the graphite film was exactly two-layers thick, all of a sudden we realized that the material under pressure was becoming extremely hard and as stiff, or stiffer, than bulk diamond.”
Riedo and her colleagues conducted various experiments and calculations, which showed that it’s theoretically possible for the material to undergo the diamond transition. However, they note that it only occurs when exactly two layers of graphene are used. When they tried to use more or less layers, it failed, according to their findings published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
“Graphite and diamonds are both made entirely of carbon, but the atoms are arranged differently in each material, giving them distinct properties such as hardness, flexibility and electrical conduction,” study author Angelo Bongiorno, and associate professor of chemistry at CUNY College of Staten Island, explained in a statement. “Our new technique allows us to manipulate graphite so that it can take on the beneficial properties of a diamond under specific conditions.”
Bullet-proof vests made of graphene are just one example of how the material has the ability to be a game changer. Scientists have also envisioned graphene be used to create clean drinking water and provide ultrafast wireless communication, among many other uses.