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Science Technology

Engineers Create World's Lightest Material 177

Posted by Soulskill
from the less-filling-tastes-great dept.
ackthpt writes "A team of engineers claims to have created the world's lightest material. Made from a lattice of hollow metallic tubes, the material is less dense than aerogels and metallic foams, yet retains strength due to the small size of the lattice structure (abstract). The material's density is 0.9 milligrams per cubic centimeter. Among other things, it's potentially useful for insulation, battery electrodes, and sound dampening."
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Engineers Create World's Lightest Material

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  • Re:Unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nadaka (224565) on Friday November 18, 2011 @12:47PM (#38099708)

    Some Aerogels can already float in air, but most of those are incredibly fragile.

  • by squidflakes (905524) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:01PM (#38099942) Homepage

    The problem with aerogels is that they can be very finicky during production, and unless you make them hydrophobic (or is it hydrophillic?) they can start to dissolve from as little as a single drop of sweat.

    Some friends and I got some lab equipment during a "Lost Our Grant" sale, which included a high-pressure autoclave. We thought making aerogel would be a hoot, but damn is that stuff difficult to produce. It is relatively cheap, but during the supercritical drying phase, you'd best not bump the autoclave, and you better have mixed everything right. That stuff is like the comedy souffle of the future.

    Anyway, the novelty wears off after you've played with the stuff for 20 minutes. The novelty of watching the cat bat it around takes about an hour.

  • Heck... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by srussia (884021) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:01PM (#38099948)

    0.9mg/cm^3 is 0.9kg/m^3, i.e. lighter than air (1.2kg/m^3). I call shenanigans.

    The freaking Universe has a density of 9.9x10^-27 kg/m^3

    Make of that what you will!

  • Re:Unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sam0vi (985269) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:17PM (#38100192)

    This is just my guess, but that is probably its density in a vacuum. When exposed to atmosphere, air goes through the cavities, filling then up, thus increasing its density. Something like calculating the density of a sponge in an underwater environment. My 2 cents.

  • by Jeng (926980) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:19PM (#38100228)

    The cnet article someone else linked has a lot more information.

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-57327382-264/breakthrough-material-is-barely-more-than-air/?part=rss&subj=crave&tag=title [cnet.com]

    It looks like this will be significantly cheaper to produce than aerogels and sturdier.

  • by wisebabo (638845) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:21PM (#38100252) Journal

    I guess the editors didn't appreciate my flights of fancy!

    wisebabo writes
    "Wow, so here's something that beats even aerogel (which I understand is 99.9% empty space; this new material made from metal, is 99.99% empty space!)!

    Anyway, in typical slashdot.fashion, knowing nothing about its mechanical properties (other than the article says it could be a good insulator or sound absorber) not to mention knowing nothing about how it is made or what it costs, let me propose two applications:

    1) take a large slab and wrap it in an airtight non-gas permeable membrane. Pump out the air. Voila! You now have a lighter than air structure that doesn't use expensive helium or flammable hydrogen. Let the new age of dirigibles (and floating in mid-air furniture) begin!

    2) Find a way to make this from its raw materials in a vacuum and in zero-g (hopefully it won't require a large amount of super-critical fluids like liquid CO2 that aerogels do). Launch a not-too-heavy manufacturing plant into LEO and make a (VERY) big cube or sphere of this stuff. Voila! Just like aerogels, you'll have a material that'll be perfect for capturing or at least slowing down all the hypervelocity space junk just like the "Stardust" and "Genesis" probes did. This'll be perfect for getting all the tiny particles and "flakes" that are too small to chase down, zap with a laser or perhaps even track via telescope or radar. Because it's very light, it'll be economical to launch something very big. (Best to attach an ion engine or some low thrust, high efficiency engine to change/maintain orbit).

    2b) Oh well, as long as we're dreaming; if you can make this in space, it'd be perfect for making heat shields that weigh almost nothing (and are very very compact to launch because you're just launching the raw materials right?). Could be useful for any probe that's heading to any planet with an atmosphere or reentry to earth. Good for BIG solar shields (a la the movie "Sunshine") also.

    2c) Okay, last one, I promise. If it deforms in a predictable manner, how about using it as an "airbag" replacement? After the (huge) heat shield has done it's work, the space probe could be cushioned upon impact with something stronger than an airbag without being prohibitively heavy. (Won't have to use that crazy "sky crane" like they're going to try with the MSL).

    Anyway, here's to totally uninformed speculation!"

  • by Jeng (926980) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:29PM (#38100348)

    Someone linked a cnet article with more information including how it is produced.

    From reading it it sounds like it will be easier to produce, but I really don't know a damn thing on this subject.

    What's your take?
    http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-57327382-264/breakthrough-material-is-barely-more-than-air/?part=rss&subj=crave&tag=title [cnet.com]

    The lattice is constructed through several steps, Carter said. First, lasers beam ultraviolet light into a reservoir of a resin that forms polymer fibers when the light hits it. The fibers follow the path the light takes, and using multiple beams creates multiple interconnected fibers.

    Next, the rest of the resin is washed away, the polymer fibers are coated with a very thin layer of nickel, and the polymer fibers are then dissolved, leaving only the metal lattice.

    The dimensions of the lattice can be adjusted by changing the properties of a perforated mask through which the ultraviolet line is beamed, the paper said.

  • Floating furniture? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wisebabo (638845) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:32PM (#38100384) Journal

    Here's a repost of my post I submitted yesterday (don't know why they rejected it, probably thought I was too hair brained).

    Anyway, here are some applications for a lighter than air substance!

    wisebabo writes
    "Wow, so here's something that beats even aerogel (which I understand is 99.9% empty space; this new material made from metal, is 99.99% empty space!)!

    Anyway, in typical slashdot.fashion, knowing nothing about its mechanical properties (other than the article says it could be a good insulator or sound absorber) not to mention knowing nothing about how it is made or what it costs, let me propose two applications:

    1) take a large slab and wrap it in an airtight non-gas permeable membrane. Pump out the air. Voila! You now have a lighter than air structure that doesn't use expensive helium or flammable hydrogen. Let the new age of dirigibles (and floating in mid-air furniture) begin!

    2) Find a way to make this from its raw materials in a vacuum and in zero-g (hopefully it won't require a large amount of super-critical fluids like liquid CO2 that aerogels do). Launch a not-too-heavy manufacturing plant into LEO and make a (VERY) big cube or sphere of this stuff. Voila! Just like aerogels, you'll have a material that'll be perfect for capturing or at least slowing down all the hypervelocity space junk just like the "Stardust" and "Genesis" probes did. This'll be perfect for getting all the tiny particles and "flakes" that are too small to chase down, zap with a laser or perhaps even track via telescope or radar. Because it's very light, it'll be economical to launch something very big. (Best to attach an ion engine or some low thrust, high efficiency engine to change/maintain orbit).

    2b) Oh well, as long as we're dreaming; if you can make this in space, it'd be perfect for making heat shields that weigh almost nothing (and are very very compact to launch because you're just launching the raw materials right?). Could be useful for any probe that's heading to any planet with an atmosphere or reentry to earth. Good for BIG solar shields (a la the movie "Sunshine") also.

    2c) Okay, last one, I promise. If it deforms in a predictable manner, how about using it as an "airbag" replacement? After the (huge) heat shield has done it's work, the space probe could be cushioned upon impact with something stronger than an airbag without being prohibitively heavy. (Won't have to use that crazy "sky crane" like they're going to try with the MSL).

    Anyway, here's to totally uninformed speculation!"

  • Re:Unlikely (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bengie (1121981) on Friday November 18, 2011 @01:57PM (#38100726)

    It could be a weight vs mass issue. Even though they're using grams, they may be making it laymen and treating it like a weight.

    So it has a "weight" of 0.9kg/m^3 when including buoyancy from our atmosphere.

    When most people put something on a scale and sees 1KG, they don't think.. "ooops, forgot to compensate for the volume of air it displaces"

    But you do bring up a good point that I would love to have answered.

  • Well actually... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigkahunah (1093791) on Friday November 18, 2011 @05:56PM (#38103700)
    The weight of the internet has been estimated: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2057018/Internet-weighs-strawberry.html [dailymail.co.uk]

Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true. -- Bertrand Russell

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