Imagine a future where humans wear clothes with soft, mesh-like fabric that’s strong enough to withstand bullets. That may soon become a reality, thanks to a group of scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan.
Researchers combined tiny glass pieces of fiber woven together into a fabric with hydrogels, a gelatinous substance made mostly of water (contact lenses are hydrogels, for example). The combination yields a material that is both as flexible as jello and as durable as metal, according to CNN. In fact, it’s thought to be five times tougher than carbon steel.
“It’s the strongest soft material ever obtained by human beings,” Jian Ping Gong, a professor at Hokkaido University and the study’s lead author, told CNN.
If that’s true, possible applications seem endless. Aside from bulletproof clothing, scientists may someday use the material to develop prosthetic body parts that can withstand wear and tear. Roughly one million Americans get a new hip or knee every year, while about seven million others are living with a hip or knee replacement as of 2015.
“[This] could be used as artificial ligaments and tendons, which are subject to strong load-bearing tensions,” Gong said in a release.
In other words, the fabric could revolutionize how we cope with our aging bodies in the future.