A team of engineers from the U.S. claim to have produced the world’s lightest material. The material is composed of tiny hollow metallic tubes that are organized into a micro-lattice – a criss-cross pattern with small open spaces between the tubes.
The scientists claim that the material is about 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and boasts “extraordinarily high energy absorption” properties. Some of the possible uses for such a material include a new generation of batteries and shock absorbers.
Producing the “Ultra Light” Material
The research was conducted at the University of California, Irvine, HRL Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology and will be published in the newest edition of Science. “The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair,” noted lead author Dr. Tobias Schaedler.
The produced material has a density of around 0.9 milligrams per cubic centimeter. Just to compare, the density of silica aerogels – the world’s lightest solid materials – is only as low as 1.0mg per cubic cm.
The metallic micro-lattices have the advantage since they are composed of 99.99% air and 0.01% solids. The engineers say that the material’s strength lies in the ordered nature of its lattice design. Other ultra light substances, including aerogels and metallic foams, have random cellular structures; meaning that they are more flexible, strong and absorb more energy than most of the raw materials that they are composed of.
William Carter, manager of architected materials at HRL, drew a likeness between the new material and larger low-density structures. “Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architecture,” he commented.
“We are revolutionizing lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the nano and micro scales.” To analyze the power of the metallic micro-lattices the team compressed them until they had only half of their original width. After taking away the load, the substance recovered 98% of its original height and took on its original shape. The first time that the stress test was conducted and repeated the material loss some of its stiffness and strength, but the engineers noted that further compressions didn’t make much of a difference.
“Materials actually get stronger as the dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale,” said team member Lorenzo Valdevit.”Combine this with the possibility of tailoring the architecture of the micro-lattice and you have a unique cellular material.”
Military or Other Applications
The engineers say that practical uses for the material include thermal insulation, battery electrodes and products that need to affect sound, vibration and shock energy. The project was undertaken for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), so it will probably be used in military or defense applications.
But, of course, a project of this scale would have amazing applications for any industry. Many projects have been financed for military purposes, only to wind up in the hands of other industries.