I want to make a powered light armor for my sci-fi setting.

The candidate material is carbon, as it's lightweight and has a whole rainbow of different allotropes with different properties.

I want to make an armor that:

  • Has a literal exoskeleton, that also functions as your regular sci-fi exoskeleton and doesn't hinder movement.
  • There would be also an exo-muscle, that can increase strength a bit.
  • Has a good protection against blunt force trauma, tearing and heat in general and is capable of decelerating and distributing the force of an object.

How should I imagine that?

Imagine, that you're inside a disturbingly humanoid bug's carapace and muscle tissue, although the fancy paintings on it and the bulletproof face mask, that looks like something straight out of the Carnival of Venice, except less creepy and more sci-fi, can hide this fairly well.

We should use:

  • Allotropes of carbon and air
  • Nanolevel engineering


  • The plates:
    • good thermal insulator, light, and has a mediocre hardness, tensile strength, and toughness.
  • inside:
    • good thermal insulator, capable of decelerating the projectile, light
  • exoskeleton:
    • harder, hard to compress, heavier, progressively deforms

Based on these criteria, what allotropes should I use and what formation should I place them in an alloy for these purposes?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Why to ask, there is not a lot of possibilities, only (h) and (b) from the wiki page you has linked. CNT allows you to do all of the described. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Mar 26 '17 at 18:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RedactedRedacted This is world-building. What kind of answer did you expect from this question? The problem is that on the one hand you are being extremely specific on the requirements, but then you ask: "how and what should I combine together to earn the wanted effect", which is just next to nonsensically vague. We are not material scientists, nor structural or mechanical engineers. We cannot tell you how you should build an exoskeleton with those requirements out of carbon. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Mar 27 '17 at 9:34

Diamonds are a disturbingly humanoid bug Carnival of Venice warrior mime's best friend.

Bottom layer: Quilted satin with pockets full of crushed diamond. The crushed diamond will act like a super sand bag (a very sparkly sandbag) and stop projectiles. Diamond is lighter than the equivalent quantity of silica or alumina sand. Diamond is an excellent conductor of heat so no one gets too sweaty - except the enemy! Comes in bronze, Orange Julius and manly taupe.

Middle layer: Diamond ring mail. I see your mithril and raise you 1. No slashing is going to get thru diamond ring mail. If you fall off your war bug mime motorcycle you will skid along in your diamond ring bodysuit and eventually stop, pop up and do a merry jig. I am a little concerned that bullets might crack the rings and that maybe they should be under the quilted satin diamond sandbag layer. The war bug mimes can decide what the occasion calls for and change accordingly.

Top layer: Fur. Topcoat is hollow carbon nanotubes, clear like polar bear fur and looking fearsome and fresh. Lasers and beam weapons are reflected and diffracted to puniness among the many hairs. Of course this would cause the entire fur to glow fabulously. If there is a wall of fire coming, hunker down under your carbon fur coat and wait it out like a smokejumper caught in a forest fire. Yetirrific!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Yetirrific" is going on a T-shirt. $\endgroup$
    – wetcircuit
    Apr 1 '17 at 18:26

Heat resistance: If this is for on-Earth/in-atmosphere use, as opposed to armored spacesuits, you might want an outermost coating of something other than carbon, to prevent the carbon burning in oxygenated air if it gets hit with localized intense heat (like a laser weapon). Maybe a micro-thin layer of something super-heat-resistant like hafnium carbide.

Alternately, you could put an ablative layer (graphite maybe?) on top for cooling, but it would have to be replaced between battles.

If you know the wavelength range of lasers you'd be facing, reflective outermost layer might help, though probably only for the first shot (on any particular spot) - it won't be perfectly reflective, especially once the armor gets dirtied.

Impacts: depends on what this is intended to protect against. If you're thinking about small ultra-fast (orbital speed) projectiles, like you might for space armor/armored spacesuits, a Whipple shield concept would be good. Thin rigid outer layer, vacuum gap, thin rigid inner layer. You might also incorporate layers of something like aerogel.

Cutting/tearing/piercing: I'm not an expert on this, but I think rigid plates rather than, or in addition to, fibers would be good here. The Wikipedia article on bulletproof vests suggests that plates or mail have been incorporated into vests to make them stab-resistant, where pure Kevlar etc. vests aren't.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Why do people still think that Carbon burns at soon as it gets hot? We are talking Carbon, not barbecue charcoal briquettes. The most exposed parts of the space shuttle were protected by reinforced carbon-carbon tiles that endured temperatures of above 2700°C. Here is an example of putting a blow-torch against a piece of nuclear reactor grade graphite. Most allotropes of Carbon do not burn. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Mar 27 '17 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ The Space Shuttle's reinforced carbon-carbon tiles were covered with silicon carbide precisely to prevent them from burning. This sort of thing doesn't burn easily, but it will burn when exposed to extreme temperatures in the presence of oxygen. Even diamonds can be burned. $\endgroup$ Mar 31 '17 at 4:05

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