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Friday, November 25, 2011

World’s lightest engineered material

Researchers from Caltech, from the University of California, Irvine, and from HRL Laboratories have developed the lightest material in the world.  Their new metal weighs less than 0.9 milligrams per cubic centimeter.  The previous lightweight champion, weighing in at about 1.9 milligrams per cubic centimeter, was a substance called ‘aerogel’. 

Just to put things in perspective, a typical bowling ball weighs somewhere between three and seven thousand grams.  If it were made of aerogel, the same bowling ball would only weigh about ten grams, and if made of the new metal, it would weigh less than 5 grams.  This is because both materials consist almost entirely of air trapped within a framework.  Aerogel is 99.8% air and 0.2% silicon dioxide, whereas the new ultralight metal is 99.9% air within a latticework of metallic microtubes.

metal on dandelion

Left:  Aerogel.

Right:  New metal resting on a dandelion without damaging it.
Credit: Dan Little, HRL Laboratories LLC.