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Physics/How thick of an armor can we build from carbon nanotubes?

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Question
Hi! I was wondering how thick of an armor can we build from carbon nanotubes? And can we build a carbon nanotube armor capable of taking fire from railguns, lasers and particle beam weapons? And how thick would you make the armor?

Answer
Carbon nanotubes alone are not used to make impact resistant plating/armor.  They are incorporated into composites, often in a fashion similar to Kevlar, nylon and carbon fibers. With this said, we could (in theory) build it to any thickness we would like assuming you had the nanotubes for it.

Nanotube armor would be no better than any other physical armor against lasers or beams of particles - the key to avoiding laser damage is having a surface that is reflective at the wavelength that the laser emits at. There are a LOT of ways to put different particles into a beam and a lot of particles to choose from... for the purpose of this discussion, lets assume accelerated alpha particles.  Nanotube armor would be no better or worse than any other plastic armor... which is to say not much.  To protect against most high energy particles you need very dense nuclei - things like lead or depleted uranium.

However, rail guns generate physical payload of macroscopic projectiles.  Any of the benefits that your carbon nanotube armor had against other physical munitions would also carry over to rail guns.  

So no help against lasers or particle beams.  Would probably be as good as you could hope for against a rail gun.

Final note:  The key to nanotube enhanced plating is not necessarily the total toughness... usually it is the fact that it is much lighter that makes it interest.  Depleted uranium alloys are still about the best stopping power we have access to right now... but we would never get it into orbit. :)

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Dr. Jeffery Raymond

Expertise

Materials chemistry. Materials science. Spectroscopy. Polymer science. Physical Chemistry. General Physics. Technical writing. General Applied Mathematics. Nanomaterials. Optoelectronic Behavior. Science Policy.

Experience

Teaching: General Inorganic Chemistry I & II, Organic Chemistry I & II, Physical Chemistry I, Polymeric Materials, General Physics I, Calculus I & II
My prior experience includes the United States Army and three years as a development chemist in industry. Currently I am the Assistant Director of the Laboratory for Synthetic Biological Interactions. All told, 13 years of experience in research, development and science education.

Organizations
Texas A&M University, American Chemical Society, POLY-ACS, SPIE

Publications
Journal of the American Chemical Society, Nanoletters, Journal of Physical Chemistry C, Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, Ultramicroscopy Proceedings of SPIE, Proceedings of MRS, Polymer News, Chemical and Engineering News, Nano Letters, Small, Chemistry.org, Angewandte

Education/Credentials
PhD Macromolecular Science and Engineering (Photophysics/Nanomaterials Concentration), MS Materials Science, BS Chemistry and Physics, Graduate Certificate in Science Policy, AAS Chemical Technology, AAS Engineering Technology

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