When a bomb explodes, you can't outmanoeuvre it; you probably can't even take cover quickly enough to protect yourself. Instead, you have to hope that there's something -- anything -- already in the way that can shield you from the blast. Here are five of the best future bomb-proof materials that could end up saving lives in our increasingly uncertain future.
Imagine a building whose structure was entirely bomb-proof. Thanks to research from the University of Liverpool, UK, that's not an unlikely idea. They've developed a new kind of bomb-proof concrete, which uses a higher cement content and less water than usual, along with only the very finest silica sand as its aggregate. But the real secret lies in the fact that a series of short, narrow steel fibres reinforce the material, giving it a tensile strength 10 times higher than that of normal steel-reinforced concrete. As well as buildings, the researchers want to make bomb-proof trash cans out of the stuff.
If blast-resistant concrete needs steel to hold it together, you'd be forgiven for thinking that explosion-proof glass is an impossibility -- but you'd be wrong. While the kind of glass used in, say, Obama's limo is thicker than a 300-page novel, researchers are working on something much slimmer, that would make it easier to use in everyday situations. The Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate has created a new type of bomb-proof glass which sandwiches long glass fibres -- in the form of a woven cloth soaked with liquid plastic and bonded with adhesive -- between two slim sheets of glass. As strong as the thick stuff but much slimmer, it'll be easier to install in normal buildings and cars.
In 1990, an amateur inventor called Maurice Ward appeared on British TV demonstrating a supermaterial he'd invented without any scientific training. Called Starlite, it could withstand temperatures of 1000C, could easily be painted on to surfaces -- and could even withstand a nuclear blast. In 2011, however, Ward sadly passed away, without ever having explained to a single scientist how Starlite worked. But there may still be hope: Ward mentioned in one interview shortly before his death that his family knew about the Starlite recipe. Here's hoping they spill the beans someday.
Zetix is a fabric so strong it will resist multiple car bomb blasts without breaking. It absorbs and disperses the energy from explosions thanks to an inner structure built around the principle of auxetics: objects that actually get fatter the more you stretch them. A quirk of physics means the fabric contains pores which open when they experience impact -- allowing blast air to pass through, but stoping solid debris at the same time. The result is a material which can dissipate the energies of multiple blasts -- and it could be used to create everything from bomb-proof curtains to body armour.
Surrounded by a world clad in those four, we should all be safe and secure. But for those who want to guarantee that their home is a safe haven, there's one more thing required: bomb-proof wallpaper. Don't laugh; it actually exists. Invented by Berry Plastics in partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers, these super-strong X-Flex adhesive sheets stop a shelter's walls from collapsing in an explosion. Peel off the wallpaper's sticky backing, apply sheets to the inside of brick wall, fasten at the edges and -- voila! -- a room can be better -protected inside a single hour. A single layer can stop wrecking ball from smashing through a brick wall; two will stop blunt, flying projectiles.