After decades of trying, scientists may have finally found a way to make body armor out of spider silk.

Aside from being very cool, this would mean ultra-lightweight, super-strong, flexible body armor that would provide highly improved protection for America’s soldiers and law enforcement officers.

Right now, U.S. soldiers must wear very heavy, inflexible and cumbersome body armor for protection. Typically it is hard body armor, a ballistic vest with at least two large, hard ceramic plates, designed to protect the upper body from shrapnel and bullets.

Hard armor basically works by resisting the force of the bullet or shrapnel with the same degree of force. But the more protection hard armor provides, the heavier and more ungainly it becomes. The lowest level protects only against small-caliber projectiles that have less force on impact. Hard-armor design often involves the ability to scale up protection, so there are pockets into which additional plates can be inserted.

While protection is important — reports indicate that the risk of death from gunshot is 14 times higher for law enforcement officers who don’t wear armor — users often find themselves weighing the risk of being shot with the reduction in speed, mobility and agility that hard armor’s weight and unwieldiness can cause.

While soldiers wear hard armor on a daily basis, law enforcement officers in reduced risk situations often prefer the flexibility and lighter weight of soft body armor, which works by spreading out the blunt trauma so that the force is not received in one focused spot. Soft armor often slows down bullet or shrapnel through layers or interwoven fabrics that act like nets or spider webs.

Developing lightweight, flexible soft body armor with the higher degree of protection of hard body armor has so far been the impossible dream.

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