The World’s Lightest Material

Via PhysOrg: Researchers have created a material that’s about 100 times as light as styrofoam. 99.99% of it is composed of air, and the other 0.01% is composed very, very carefully.

“The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair,” said lead author Dr. Tobias Schaedler of HRL.

The material’s architecture allows unprecedented mechanical behavior for a metal, including complete recovery from compression exceeding 50 percent strain and extraordinarily high energy absorption.

“Materials actually get stronger as the dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale,” explained UCI mechanical and aerospace engineer Lorenzo Valdevit, UCI’s principal investigator on the project. “Combine this with the possibility of tailoring the architecture of the micro-lattice and you have a unique cellular material.”

Developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the novel material could be used for battery electrodes and acoustic, vibration or shock energy absorption.

This is very interesting. I’m curious about the ratio of lightness to energy absorption (which they pin at “extraordinarily high”) – simplistically, how proportionally strong is it? If you could make armour that weighed as much as a shirt but absorbed a bullet impact, well, that’d be just dandy. However, it seems like future experiments and applications would be limited by the difficulty of creating this material – mass-producing objects with specific features on the nanometre scale is not yet an easy task. The cost, of course, goes without saying. 

So what does that mean? What does it always mean? We wait and see! In 10 years I’ll want my Macbook 99.99% Air. 


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