Here’s why a single flying bullet can be so damaging and often deadly

It may seem obvious that being shot is not a good
thing. After all, bullets kill people.

However, for more than 100 years, scientists have
toiled to understand why and how guns inflict the
damage that they do. Figuring out how to mend
such wounds and improve a victim’s chances of
survival are also critical areas of research, too.
That case could not be more clear for Rep. Steve
Scalise of Louisiana and three other people who
were shot by 66-year-old James Hodgkinson »
during practice for a congressional baseball game
on Wednesday in Virginia. (Hodgkinson was later
killed by Capitol police.)

Though Scalise was not hit in the head or chest, he
did receive a particularly complicated wound to his
hip. The bullet “travelled across his pelvis,
fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and
causing severe bleeding,” according to MedStar
Washington Hospital Center.

Dr. Jack Sava of MedStar WHC told reporters on
Friday » that he was feeling “a lot more confident
and a lot more optimistic” than just two days ago,
but he noted Scalise is still in critical condition and
requires a number of additional surgeries.

Bullet wounds can kill a person long after a
shooting. In fact, as Lenny Bernstein reported for
The Washington Post » on Thursday, the pelvis is
home to iliac vessels, and “30 percent to 50
percent of injuries to the main iliac vessels result in

To humanely probe the physics of gunshot wounds,
and ultimately help police solve crimes and doctors
save lives, researchers shoot bullets into inert,
flesh-like substances. In many cases, they use a
large block of gelatin and water to simulate the
impact of a speeding bullet on human tissue. Other
use glycerin soap.

Here’s an example from the YouTube channel
EffectiveAffect » of what a gunshot simulation in
gelatin looks like. This bullet was moving at about
2,900 feet per second through 575 cubic inches of
Many factors determine how damaging bullet
wounds can be. The type of gun and bullet used,
the range of the shot, where on the body a person
was shot, and whether or not the bullet exited the
body afterward all make a difference.

But some basic principles remain: When a bullet is
traveling at lightning-fast speeds, it partially slows
down the moment it hits a person. The energy of
the blast needs to go somewhere, so it gets
radiated outward from the bullet’s path to the
surrounding tissues. This creates a much larger
“mushrooming” effect, which you can see above.
This temporary ballooning of tissue is actually what
causes the most damage, according to a post on
Mongabay » . The billowing flesh lacerates
blood vessels and surrounding organs, tissues,
and bone — and, as Bernstein reports, this
shockwave can leave a track of wounding as much
as “five to 10 times wider than the bullet.”
Gelatin, of course, isn’t a perfect proxy for the
human body. We have bones and cartilage, which
can skew the bullet’s path, sending it into a tailspin
that could cause it to break apart and get lodged in
different spaces, further complicating the severity
of the wound.

This why an increasing number of researchers are
turning to advanced computer simulations. Such
models can recreate the complex layers of tissue
in the human body to study a practically infinite
number of grievous wounds from all angles,
speeds, and styles of bullets (or even shrapnel
from mines and improvised explosive devices).
A model that debuted in 2015, for example,
simulated a human leg, its skin, muscle, bone,
large arteries, and even small veins. Then it
applied the physics of fluid dynamics to explore
the origins of traumatic blood loss » , and the best
methods to stop that bleeding.
But as Alex Ossola reported for Popular
Science » , this and other models aren’t perfect —
so there’s still a lot left for scientists and doctors
to learn.

This uncertainty helps explain Scalise is receiving
some of the best medical care in the world, but is
still in critical (though stable) condition: Gun
wounds are as enigmatic as they are damaging
and dangerous. 

Certified Web designer, Computer/Internet
Enthusiast. I believe in Creativity.
Proudly The CEO Of
Thomas on EmailThomas on FacebookThomas on InstagramThomas on Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *