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"Bulletproof" human skin  (Source: Jalila Essaidi)
The patch of skin has proved to be bulletproof as long as the bullet isn't traveling too quickly

Spider silk is an undoubtedly tough material. Just last year, a zoologist from the University of Puerto Rico discovered that the webs of C. darwini, or Darwin's bark spider, are twice as elastic as any silk from other web-weaving spiders and are 10 times better than the fiber material Kevlar.

Jalila Essaidi, of the Forensic Genomics Consortium in the Netherlands, along with contributors from other research institutes in the Netherlands and the U.S., have developed a "bulletproof" skin that was originally an art project that demonstrated the "relative concept of safety."

To make the patch of skin, Essaidi used a brand of spider silk that came from Utah State University. The silk is a result of genetically modified goats and worms, where the spider silk protein is harvested from the goat milk to make ultra-strong fibers. 

Essaidi then obtained human skin cells from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The spider silk and human skin cells were combined to create the "bulletproof" patch of skin. While this piece of skin is somewhat bulletproof, it cannot repel fast-moving bullets. For instance, it was pierced by a bullet shot at normal speed from a .22 caliber rifle, which is the standard level of protection for a Type 1 bulletproof vest. However, the patch of skin was able to prevent the penetration of a bullet shot at lower speeds (the researchers conveniently didn’t report the how fast the “lower speeds” were).

"Even with the 'bulletproof' skin being pierced by the faster bullet, the experiment is, in my view, still a success," said Essaidi. "The art project is based on and leads to a debate on the question, 'Which forms of safety are socially important?"

This skin shield could someday be improved and used for military use on the battlefield, as well as other forms of protection. But for now, this patch of skin is on display at the National History Museum Naturalis in Leiden, Netherlands until January 8, 2012.


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More than just bullets
By geddarkstorm on 8/18/2011 1:28:04 PM , Rating: 4
By "lower speeds" they probably meant a small handgun or revolver. Not being able to take a rifle isn't a big deal for such a small "skin" patch. In fact, that it can stop any bullets and be so small is remarkable!

But really, I want to know how well it stands up to abrasion, knives, and shrapnel. You could always wear this (since it's so thin) under normal armor for a level of extra, flexible protection; but it's major utility could be protecting places armor can't, like the face, hands, joints, and any area that has to be flexible and moveable.

RE: More than just bullets
By Digimonkey on 8/18/2011 1:41:48 PM , Rating: 5
Maybe they just threw a bullet at it and claimed it's bullet proof. It's technically still a bullet at a slower speed.

RE: More than just bullets
By Breakfast Susej on 8/19/2011 3:05:29 PM , Rating: 3
That made me think of Steven Segal's lame reality cop show, where he was demonstrating his shooting skills and likening the way he shoots toward envisioning himself as pushing the bullet rather than pulling the trigger.

Maybe they got Segal to test it by pushing bullets at it.

RE: More than just bullets
By Steve1981 on 8/18/2011 1:49:05 PM , Rating: 2
Presumably they mean the armor was penetrated by a 22LR round (that is what Type I protection would indicate), which travels a tad above 1000 feet/second. That isn't exactly blazing speed. A 9mm, 38 Special +P, and 357 magnum all can exceed the 1000 foot/second mark, as do some varieties of the heavier but slower 45ACP.

RE: More than just bullets
By MrBlastman on 8/18/2011 3:19:18 PM , Rating: 5
What matters when it comes to penetration moreso is:

a. Energy imparted from the projectile to the target (see d.)

b. Shape of the projectile (i.e. tip/point of it)

c. Core of the projectile (determines how susceptible it is to deformation and how rapidly it imparts its energy upon impact)

d. velocity (as a component of the function 1/2 * mass * velocity^2)

All of these matter far more than just knowing the "speed." Of course, the velocity is important when determining the energy--it is just a component. You can take a brick and fire it at a silk covered target and it will bounce off leaving a dent while taking a small bullet moving at a faster velocity but due to the shape of it, while containing the same amount of kinetic energy as the brick, it imparts it to a much smaller area, penetrating the target.

The same applies to using a 65 grain hollowpoint versus a 65 grain FMJ, steel cored round. The hollowpoint will be stopped, the steel cored round will go right through. You'd be surprised at how well 5.56 mm can penetrate solid metal.

I'll take a stab at the Artists quandry:

'Which forms of safety are socially important?"

My answer: The ones that WORK. This silk, while neat, can't stop a full speed 22 LR round (which, for those of you that don't know, is the same round that you can use in a practice target shooting pistol or in a 22 rimfire rifle). I'll stick to a vest until she can come up with something useful.

RE: More than just bullets
By Steve1981 on 8/18/2011 3:33:38 PM , Rating: 3
I agree that velocity is only one component that contributes to the effective penetration of a bullet, but it was the only one mentioned in the article, so I ran with it.

You'd be surprised at how well 5.56 mm can penetrate solid metal.

Nah, I wouldn't. I've seen em punch through a steel sheet 1/8 inch thick that stopped 38 and 45 rounds, totally shatter cinderblocks, etc. It gets boring out in the boondocks...

RE: More than just bullets
By tastyratz on 8/22/2011 10:06:52 AM , Rating: 2
And who would wear a vest that cant stop a 22, the smallest caliber of common target weaponry available. Considering only handguns for those who don't know:

9mm parabellum? 341ftlbs energy
40 cal? 485 ft/lbs

but the 22lr? 96lbs...

src( )

That is like armor from being poked in the eye with a bic pen. A heavy denim likely provides more protection.

RE: More than just bullets
By LRonaldHubbs on 8/18/2011 1:55:38 PM , Rating: 3
could be protecting places armor can't, like the face, hands, joints, and any area that has to be flexible and moveable.

Keep in mind that this stuff does not defy physics. Even if it stops a bullet, it's still going to deform in the process, and anything underneath it is also going to deform. If you get shot the face while wearing a mask of this stuff, you're still going to get f*cked up.

RE: More than just bullets
By ebakke on 8/18/2011 2:03:33 PM , Rating: 4
But it would be so much cooler if it did defy physics!

RE: More than just bullets
By inperfectdarkness on 8/18/2011 10:32:45 PM , Rating: 2

it's why current body-armor uses ceramic plates inside a flak vest. the ceramic plates absorb the deflecting force of a projectile. it's why some soldiers didn't even realize that they got shot until later--the ceramic worked so well.

it's great to have a material that will absorb more with less rigidity and weight, but you still have to account for the physics that says getting hit with a "stopped" NATO 5.56 round is like getting pinged with a 90mph fastball.

RE: More than just bullets
By geddarkstorm on 8/19/2011 5:54:11 PM , Rating: 2
On the other hand, cracking a few bones is a tad bit more survivable than having a piece of metal ripping through your brain. Armor spreads out the force of impact. Bullets kill because they pierce, not because they bludgeon (not enough mass for that, even at high velocity).

RE: More than just bullets
By Bad-Karma on 8/22/2011 5:49:13 AM , Rating: 2
You don't die from a bullet wound just because it "pierces" you. It's the internal organs, muscle, and other structures that are taken out as the bullets passes through the body. Lots of people have had bullets pass wright through them and lived to tell their story.

RE: More than just bullets
By Jeffk464 on 8/18/2011 8:26:38 PM , Rating: 2
The slower speed bullet was from a trusty BB gun. :)

By inperfectdarkness on 8/18/2011 10:33:16 PM , Rating: 3
can we call it mithril?

RE: More than just bullets
By notamuslim210 on 8/23/2011 4:02:42 PM , Rating: 2
How about we look at the potential for a cosmetic skin hardener? It could be like the fictional "Beulene" from the movie "Catwoman". Man Halley Berry was hot in that one!

Fact check
By DanNeely on 8/18/2011 1:51:03 PM , Rating: 4
Level 1 armor only protects against a .22LR or .38 special when fired from handguns (from a rifle the bullet will be going several times faster). To get protection from rifles you need to go to level 3 armor.

RE: Fact check
By DanNeely on 8/18/2011 1:53:53 PM , Rating: 2
Allthough in this case the error was present in the foxsnews source. Either the penetrating bullet was fired by a rifle in which case the standard would be level 3, or it should be a .22lr fired from a handgun for the level 1 standard.

RE: Fact check
By Steve1981 on 8/18/2011 1:57:04 PM , Rating: 2
A 22LR will gain some velocity by moving from a handgun barrel to a rifle barrel (an extra couple hundred feet per second maybe), but it won't turn it into a 223.

RE: Fact check
By JonnyDough on 8/19/2011 1:32:45 PM , Rating: 2
To add to that - there comes a point when a longer barrel will not really help add much velocity at all.

The pressurize of the gas behind the bullet will decrease rapidly as the bullet moves forward giving the pressure behind it more space to expand into. Remember too that pressure will build in FRONT of the bullet as it moves down the barrel, counter-acting any rearward pressure (drag).

Most of the forward thrust comes from the initial pressure/explosion within the first few inches of the chamber/barrel because of these two physical effects.

Interesting factoid for ya - M16 assault rifles have a max chamber pressure of(remembered from basic training) approx 52,000 PSI. A tiny pinhole in the return gas line at the end of the barrel is all the pressure needed to eject the spent casing and reload. This is how many semi/automatic weapons work.

RE: Fact check
By darckhart on 8/18/2011 3:52:39 PM , Rating: 2
oh what a predicament! in order to level up your armor it has to be used repeatedly. but it seems even one measly .22 round will punch through it! oh how ever can we level it up?!!!

RE: Fact check
By torpor on 8/18/2011 5:30:00 PM , Rating: 2
Please kill 10 terrorists and bring me their thumbdrives.

By msheredy on 8/18/2011 2:02:51 PM , Rating: 5
...are 10 times better than the fiber material Kevlar.

Since when has the term "Better" become a standard of measurement?

RE: Right...
By Kiffberet on 8/19/2011 7:11:52 AM , Rating: 2
Everyone knows that silk is 10 times better for wiping your @ss on than a Kevlar bullet proof jacket..

Not understanding the use of human skin cells
By nafhan on 8/18/2011 2:11:19 PM , Rating: 3
From the country that brought you Human Centipede: "It puts the lotion on it's bulletproof skin"

Anyway, I don't see the point of using human skin cells. Seems like there are any number of things that would be easier to procure and work just as well. I guess that's why this was considered an "art" project?

By TSS on 8/19/2011 10:45:59 AM , Rating: 2
It's to encourage debate. There's all sorts of interesting questions that can arise from this. First and foremost is how far are we willing to go to protect outselves?

Since human cells where used suppose we find a way to genetically alter humans so that their natural skin becomes this skin, with no other side effects. Would you do it? Would you let your child do it? Would you outlaw it?

And as others have mentioned, it would work great as body armor for the face, hands etc. But who would be wearing this body armor? SWAT is kinda a given but, the militairy? Considering the US militairy doesn't give a damn about body armor already, would there really be a benefit?

I do have to say i'm very impressed by this, especially since it's a work of art. It's a functional work of art. It both works as the science intended and to encourage debate. Rather then some vague statue that nobody seems to know what it's about, or some offensive picture that mistakes offending for encouraging debate.

This just in...
By NellyFromMA on 8/18/2011 3:00:54 PM , Rating: 2
Tempurpedic foam stops bullets at 'low-speed' (tossing, for instance) too. Also very comfortable to sleep on.

By seraphim1982 on 8/18/2011 5:12:37 PM , Rating: 2
From earlier reports on similar tests with Spider Silk that I've read, it can be stronger than Kevlar. Although, in the test, it was blended with human skin cells, which would likely dramatically lower its effectiveness, as any bullet out of a gun muzzle could penetrate skin.

For me, blend it with human skin is a wonky idea, unless you got some other even wonkier ideas coming down...

????? ????? ???????
By angel boy3637 on 8/18/2011 9:19:53 PM , Rating: 2
I'll take it
By shin0bi272 on 8/19/2011 7:18:59 AM , Rating: 2
You'll need 15000 Iridium to research this project as well Sheppard.

By JonnyDough on 8/19/2011 1:14:50 PM , Rating: 2
The patch of skin has proved to be bulletproof as long as the bullet isn't traveling too quickly

The patch of skin has proven to be bulletproof as long as the bullet isn't traveling too quickly. Fixed. Doesn't anyone use editors or speak English in this country anymore?

say what????
By koli on 8/24/2011 4:27:48 AM , Rating: 2
Just wondering if someday, for a change, something like this can be put to use in helping someone instead of figuring how to stop a bullet???? Sick, just plain sick how ALL and EVerything seems to be killing and so on...

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