USC scientists figure out how to turn t-shirts into body armor

Researchers at the University of South Carolina have figured out how to combine the carbon component of cotton with boron to create a cotton t-shirt with the toughness of body armor.
The scientists started with plain, white T-shirts that were cut into thin strips and dipped into a boron solution. The strips were later removed from the solution and heated in an oven. The heat changes the cotton fibers into carbon fibers, which react with the boron solution and produce boron carbide.
Boron carbide is the same stuff that's used to protect tanks, but the boron carbide nanowire fabric that the USC team created has the added benefit of being flexible, lightweight, and elastic.

USC via Ecouterre


  1. One of my old R.Talsorian Cyberpunk (the role playing game) characters used to wear one of these.

    1. Well, if the military develops it, figure 10 to 15 years.

      They first have to waste an additional $7 billion on “research”, then order 4 million units, then have Congress cut that back to 500 units with a per shirt pricetag of $5 million each.

  2. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work on cotton jeans, is there? Because crotch blow-outs are very embarrassing.

  3. This is great news for all of those gangsters who were worried about their body armor cramping their “hood” style.

  4. This doesn’t mean bullet proof t-shirts obviously. You would need many woven layers to stop shrapnel and bullets. It would allow for much better penetration protection for areas that need to be flexible where plates are impractical. But as far as stopping the damage from a bullet goes, the armor has to stop the bullet and spread its impact out over a larger area. Overlapping plates made of this more flexible material would provide very good protection.

    1. That’s what the emblem on the chest is for, to give your enemy a target to shoot at that is more armored. It also helps to have a cape, cowl, and gloves made of thicker materials, and of course, trunks, worn on the outside.

    2. This. As much as I would want my ironic tee from 6dollarshirts to be bulletproof, without stopping the bullet you would have an ironic-t-shirt-wrapped bullet lodged in your body.

  5. Seeing as this is coming from researchers in South Carolina, am I the only one who finds it mildly amusing they used ‘wife beaters’ as their source material?

    1. @jrhd – What an annoying thing to say. Just so you know, T-shirts (with sleeves short or long) are different from A-shirts or wife beaters(worn by people you are obviously afraid of). You just can’t stand something cool coming out of a state you look down on.

    2. “The scientists started with plain, white T-shirts ”

      Is that so hard to understand, jrhd?

      Looks like my home state doesn’t have a monopoly on ignorance after all.

  6. While it wouldn’t work on its own as bullet-stopping body armor, it would be great for anti-abrasion motorcycle wear, for just one example.

  7. At first I thought this was the USC in California. It would be perfect for walking to campus. Nevermind.

  8. Next step: Seeing if it still works on t-shirts with cool silkscreened designs on ’em.

    1. Converting the cotton fibers to carbon fibers kind of indicates that the shirts are only available in basic black. Maybe apply the cool silkscreen design after the processing.

  9. This has applications way beyond “Violence Games”

    Consider how many categories of mechanical devices that have places where BC of this form could be a TOTAL game changer. Flywheels and their “Containment” for example. Same concept on various other high energy density per mass unit applications.

    One of my several “Hope to live long enough for seeing them” list items is a “Beanstalk” style Space Elevator. Man’s dreams need exceed his grasp or researchers won’t bother doing things like this fiber! We owe a major collective toast to the folks who made this process work.

  10. In the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG, this was called ‘Blended Armor’
    and was by far the best armor in the game because it provided medium-high protection with no penalties; that and ‘skinweave’ (same principle applied to your flesh) damn near broke the game.

  11. yes, but could we do this ourselves? what is the solution and what is the oven temperature? what are the safety precautions for handling all this stuff? (And, is boron abundant enough that this wouldn’t cost $5,000 per gram of material?)

    1. Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Berylium, BORON, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen.

      It’s the fifth element in the table. Abundance is assured.

      ~D. Walker

      1. What does getting to a “boron solution” from a box of Borax look like cost-wise? (I have to assume the recipe for body armor isn’t “Boil your t-shirt in Borax water, then bake at 375 for an hour.” That would just be insulting that we all missed it.)

    2. No, this isn’t something someone could do at home.

      Going by the experimental section of their paper, you’d need an ultrasound machine, a furnace that can go up to 1160 degrees C, and a crapload of argon.

      If you have all that laying around, all you need is 10g of Ni(NO3)2·6H2O and 10g of amorphous boron nanopowder per 15g piece of T-shirt.

      Paper here:

  12. How about this cotton batting like the stuff in quilts. Amish body armor?

    But it would be more projectile resistant than just one layer of a cotton T shirt.

  13. Can I trade up my BoingBoing T-shirt for the bulletproof version free of charge? I hate missing out on the upgrade cycle.

  14. “…also mistakenly cut into thin strips and dipped in boron were members from the band ‘Plain White Tees’. The band are currently unavailable for comment, but are said to be ‘unhappy.’ ”

    “Nobody Doesn’t Like Molten Boron!” – Futurama

    …and I’m done.

  15. This is nonsense. I’ve poured bourbon on plenty of cotton shirts, and none of them turned into body armor.

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