Engineers create the “World’s Lightest Material”

The human ability and desire to develop ever-smaller material compositions have resulted in yet another milestone. Research engineers from UC Irvine, HRL Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology said that they were able to create a material that they claim is the lightest in the world. Technically, being the lightest means that the material has the smallest mass to volume ratio of anything ever created. In other words, the material has the least weight when compared to the same size of any other material in the world. It is also amazingly sturdy and durable for what is essential a near-weightless material.

I think the image below demonstrates its extraordinary property rather effectively. The material is so light that it doesn’t weigh down on the dandelion as it perches on top of it.

The key to the material’s weight and strength advantage lies in its structure. It is made up of very small hollow metallic tubes arranged in a crisscross pattern. The design leaves a lot of spaces for air between the metal structures. The spaces allow it to be almost weightless but, at the same time, its ordered structure makes it still durable. It is the ordered, lattice design that gives it a strength advantage over other light materials like aerogels, which have random structures.

There are several amazing statistics that go along with such a technological feat.  The material is said to be 100 times lighter than a Styrofoam. Styrofoam seems to be nearly weightless already, so you can imagine how light this material is. The inner diameter of the material’s hollow tubes is 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. This gives a perspective of how small of a scale the engineers were working with. The material’s density is 0.9 milligrams per cubic centimeter, making it less dense than aerogels and metallic foams. It is no surprise that the material would be so light since it is composed of 99.99% air and of 0.01% solids. It is no slouch when it comes to sturdiness either. The material is said to retain 98% of its original height when it is compressed for the first time and retains its full shape. Further compression makes very little difference to the height of the material.

The engineers see a lot of uses for the material. They think it can be used in next-generation batteries. The material’s structure makes it a good energy conductor and absorber. Its weight makes it extremely portable.  They also think it can be used for thermal insulation and as a spring to absorb unwanted sounds, vibrations and shocks. I think it can also be used in aircrafts as well. Researchers are always looking for lighter and stronger materials to incorporate in airplanes, and this material has those properties. If you need something super light but still sturdy, this material is hard to beat at the moment. 

Source: BBC News

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