Even the best locks and doors are little more than an inconvenience to a motivated person with the proper tools. However, engineers from Durham University and the Fraunhofer Institute have created the first synthetic material that can block even the most determined intruders. Researchers claim the material, known as Proteus, cannot be cut. In fact, it’s so tough it destroys any tool that attempts to slice into it.
Natural materials like diamond and sapphire are strong because of the dense lattice of atomic bonds, but they’re inflexible. With the right tools (also made of diamond), you can cut and fracture a diamond. But Proteus takes its inspiration from a much different natural source: seashells.
Proteus is a combination of ceramic spheres suspended inside a flexible cellular aluminum structure, which makes it only 15 percent as dense as steel. The shells of sea creatures often have a similar composition with layers of calcium carbonate suspended in a soft organic structure. The same way a shell can blunt teeth or claws, Proteus blunts tools.
Proteus is not designed to be invulnerable — tools will damage it, but it damages the tools more. The researchers were unable to pierce Proteus with drills, angle grinders, and similar devices. You can see the material eat away at a grinder in the video below until it’s just a stub. Proteus is even resistant to high-power water jets — as the material deforms, the curved ceramic surfaces weaken the stream of water to prevent additional damage.
The key to taking out tools is the ceramic spheres. The outer shell is designed to give way, but the ceramic spheres inside vibrate as tools attempt to wear them down. This vibration grinds away at the cutting edges until they’re no longer able to make headway. Particles that break free from the spheres also harden in the aluminum “foam” and further slow progress. Lead author Stefan Szyniszewski says it’s like trying to cut through “jelly filled with nuggets.”
The team sees Proteus as an ideal option for protective gear and construction materials. It could provide a barrier against tools and accidental damage without the mass of traditional (usually metal) materials. It might also show up in locks and safes that resist sawing, drilling, and other forms of cutting; the perfect home for the more paranoid among us to keep valuable items.
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