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An insanely strong new nanomaterial could replace steel and Kevlar in surface coatings. The material, created by researchers at MIT, Caltech, and ETH Zürich, is nano architected which means it is a “precisely patterned nanoscale structure” that looks like a little net.

The material is made of carbon struts that hold their shape under intense force. To test it, they shot the material with Microparticles ad supersonic speeds.

“The team tested the material’s resilience by shooting it with microparticles at supersonic speeds, and found that the material, which is thinner than the width of a human hair, prevented the miniature projectiles from tearing through it,” the researchers wrote.

“The same amount of mass of our material would be much more efficient at stopping a projectile than the same amount of mass of Kevlar,” said the study’s lead author, Carlos Portela, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT.

“The knowledge from this work… could provide design principles for ultra-lightweight impact resistant materials [for use in] efficient armor materials, protective coatings, and blast-resistant shields desirable in defense and space applications,” says co-author Julia R. Greer, a professor of materials science, mechanics, and medical engineering at Caltech, whose lab led the material’s fabrication.

Basically these tiny structures look like a net or a piece of Chex cereal but are far stronger and resistant to massive forces. Because of this, they can be used to protect surfaces from projectiles and even damage associated with space flight. In fact, particles will literally bounce off of this material.

“Nanoarchitected materials truly are promising as impact-mitigating materials,” Portela says. “There’s a lot we don’t know about them yet, and we’re starting this path to answering these questions and opening the door to their widespread applications.”

By John Biggs

John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times.