Rice University scientists have found that firing a tiny, nearly perfect cube of silver onto a hard target turns its single-crystal microstructure into a gradient-nano-grained (GNG) structure. The purpose of the experiment was to learn how materials deform under overwhelming stress, as might be experienced by a bulletproof vest or a spacecraft or other vehicle. The researchers believe creating a gradient nanostructure in materials by way of deformation will make them more ductile and therefore less likely to fail catastrophically when subsequently stressed. Ultimately, they want to develop nano-grained metals that are tougher and stronger than anything available today. The team used its advanced laser-induced projectile impact test (LIPIT) rig to shoot microcubes onto a silicon target. The mechanism allowed them to be sure the cube hit the target squarely.