Marvel’s Black Panther introduced us to some of the coolest elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far: Wakanda is the most advanced civilization we’ve ever seen and brilliant teenage scientist Shuri (Letitia Wright) could give Bruce Banner lessons in science (and fashion). There’s a dude with a literal rocket launcher for an arm, and, the best part: There’s an element in Wakanda called Vibranium that can literally power the world. Vibranium is a game-changer for the MCU, and ultimately could be in the real world as well.

Vibranium is really put to the test as the core of Black Panther’s armor. It allows him to be perfectly agile while simultaneously impervious to bullets. This combination of dexterity and flexibility is not easy to achieve outside of the realm of comic books. If we want to be as advanced as Wakanda, though, we must pull ourselves up by our (unfortunately lame and Vibraniumless) boot straps and give it our best shot.

What is Real-Life Vibranium?

Kevlar is the most obvious comparison to Black Panther’s armor. The material is sturdy and has saved many heroes from would-be fatal bullets. It’s not perfect, though. Kevlar is made from a para-aramid synthetic fiber, which is rigid despite being strong and lightweight. It only has 3 percent elasticity, meaning that Black Panther would be doing significantly fewer backflips if his suit was made of Kevlar.

The U.S. Army is taking a leaf out of Vibranium’s book by developing an armor made entirely from a natural substance: spider silk. That’s right. This highly flexible armor is called Dragon Silk and allegedly has over 10 times the flexibility of Kevlar. The main problem with Dragon Silk is that it seems to be more silk than dragon. It reportedly has a third less strength than Kevlar, making it susceptible to most weapons.

Black Panther's Vibranium armor makes him literally bulletproof.

The best comparison might already exist in graphene. Graphene is an incredible substance that scientists are only just scratching the surface of for all its potential uses.

Graphene
Graphene, an atomic-scale lattice made of hexagonal shapes from carbon atoms. It is the strongest material ever tested.

It’s so thin that 97 percent of light passes through it while still being stronger than nearly anything currently on the market. What makes it so special is its unique structure. Its pure carbon bonds form a diamond-shaped pattern, which can remain sturdy even in the face of high-speed projectiles. The impact is spread throughout the armor as vibrations, severely reducing the force and preventing most damage. If we’re going to find our own version of Vibranium, graphene just might be the answer.

Black Panther’s armor is more than just armor, however. It actually can be used as a weapon itself. The nanites in the armor absorb all of the kinetic energy being thrown at it and can be redirected offensively. This means that Vibranium gets stronger through use, a characteristic that ultimately separates it from anything found on Earth today.

But there’s no word — yet —on whether Wolverine’s Adamantium is stronger than Vibranium.

Scientists still have a lot of work to do to catch up to T’Challa’s brilliant and scene-stealing sister, Shuri. Hopefully, now that they have pledged to the United Nations to spread some of their knowledge to the rest of the world, we’ll be running up buildings, taking on a dozen armed gunmen at once, and ripping tires off of cars with our hands in no time.