World's lightest material developed

Nov 17, 2011
Ultralight metallic microlattice with a density of 0.9 mg/cm3. Image: HRL Laboratories, Photo by Dan Little

A team of researchers from UC Irvine, HRL Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology have developed the world's lightest material – with a density of 0.9 mg / cc – about 100 times lighter than Styrofoam. Their findings appear in the Nov. 18 issue of Science.

The new material redefines the limits of lightweight materials because of its unique "micro-lattice" cellular architecture. The researchers were able to make a material that consists of 99.99 percent air by designing the 0.01 percent solid at the nanometer, micron and millimeter scales. "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.

William Carter, manager of the architected materials group at HRL, compared the new material to larger, more familiar edifices: "Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architecture. We are revolutionizing lightweight by bringing this concept to the nano and micro scales."

Explore further: Researchers make major advances in dye sensitized solar cells

More information: Ultralight Metallic Microlattices, Science 18 November 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6058 pp. 962-965. DOI: 10.1126/science.1211649

ABSTRACT
Ultralight (<10 milligrams per cubic centimeter) cellular materials are desirable for thermal insulation; battery electrodes; catalyst supports; and acoustic, vibration, or shock energy damping. We present ultralight materials based on periodic hollow-tube microlattices. These materials are fabricated by starting with a template formed by self-propagating photopolymer waveguide prototyping, coating the template by electroless nickel plating, and subsequently etching away the template. The resulting metallic microlattices exhibit densities ρ ≥ 0.9 milligram per cubic centimeter, complete recovery after compression exceeding 50% strain, and energy absorption similar to elastomers. Young’s modulus E scales with density as E ~ ρ2, in contrast to the E ~ ρ3 scaling observed for ultralight aerogels and carbon nanotube foams with stochastic architecture. We attribute these properties to structural hierarchy at the nanometer, micrometer, and millimeter scales.

Provided by University of California - Irvine

4.6 /5 (33 votes)

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User comments : 27

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PPihkala
5 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
So what molecules where they using or is this structure applicable to different basis materials? They just state that this is metal.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Nov 17, 2011
It's a nickel plating process (see the link provided in the article), could work for other metals, though.
that_guy
not rated yet Nov 17, 2011
I want more info. Specifically the strength load and insulation properties of this material compared to silica aerogel, which is approximately the same weight (1mg per CM3 as opposed to 0.9mg per CM3).

I think the breakthrough in this is that the material is a wholly different substance and structure allowing it to be flexible (Aerogel is brittle) and possibly electrically conductive(?)

Also, this set up is extremely conducive to corrosion. They used nickel, which is corrosion resistant - so how do these two factors measure out on the whole?
fmfbrestel
3 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
Hydrogen isn't a material. That said, I remember reading about a silica aerogel that was filled with hydrogen and therefore lighter than air. But again, that is cheating because the hydrogen is not part of the material, it is just trapped by the material.
hush1
not rated yet Nov 17, 2011
Efforts to 'metalized' H:
http://www.physor...tal.html
Newbeak
not rated yet Nov 17, 2011
I think the breakthrough in this is that the material is a wholly different substance and structure allowing it to be flexible (Aerogel is brittle) and possibly electrically conductive(?)

Maybe this ( a metallic microlattice filled with H2 ) could be used to fill the wings of small aircraft to make them almost weightless,thus allowing human powered flight by non-athletes.
Callippo
5 / 5 (3) Nov 17, 2011
Video demonstrating the elasticity of the material http://www.youtub...e6iQFI6U
ChaosRN
5 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
is it unlike Styrofoam, in that it is recycle/bio-degradable ?
Newbeak
5 / 5 (1) Nov 17, 2011
is it unlike Styrofoam, in that it is recycle/bio-degradable ?

It's not bio-degradable,but the material used,nickel,is definitely recyclable.Of course,each sample is 99.99% air,as reported in the article,so you wouldn't get much material to recycle.
nola
5 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2011
This is so incredibly cool. Well done to those guys involved with it. :)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Nov 18, 2011
Efforts to 'metalized' H:

Under those conditions hydrogen is quite heavy (per volume). Much heavier than hydrogen in a pressurized or cryogenic tank (which already don't display any boyancy but are quite heavy.)

Maybe this (a metallic microlattice filled with H2 ) could be used to fill the wings of small aircraft to make them almost weightless

You don't need a microlattice for that. And the uplift of hydrogen in wings is so minimal that it's really not worth it (about 1,2kg per cubic meter - which is a lot larger than you might think. And you need to add the weight for making it hydrogen-tight, which is much harder than making something airtight).
You need a lot more to significantly help carry any weight (that's why blimps are so big)

Video demonstrating the elasticity of the material

Nice.
that_guy
not rated yet Nov 18, 2011
Hydrogen is lighter.

I would've made this comment if I was in 5th grade or had no reading comprehension that they are speaking of solid material.

@Fmfbrestel - subjectively, you could call Hy a material and not be wrong. "Hy is the raw material used for fusion." - This is absolutely correct usage.

@Callippo - Thanks for the Vid Link!

@antialias, newsbeak - The fuel tanks are located in a plane's wings. You do not put anything else in, because anything that is not fuel will reduce range. Also, a plane's design doesn't need any more lift than the wings provide.

So what Antialias said was true, but secondary to the primary concerns. Aside from take-off, most of the fuel is used to go forward anyways(and breaking during landing).


Dug
5 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2011
Incredible article about and extraordinary material. One thing that might make the article credible would be a projected price, but not having complete or even basic details is ordinarily typical for PR parroting Smart Planet contributors.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 18, 2011
@antialias, newsbeak - The fuel tanks are located in a plane's wings.

Not in those powered by human muscles. Those were the ones he was asking after.
http://en.wikiped...aircraft
Nerdyguy
5 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2011
Incredible article about and extraordinary material. One thing that might make the article credible would be a projected price, but not having complete or even basic details is ordinarily typical for PR parroting Smart Planet contributors.


There's not likely to be anything like reliable information yet on cost. This was built in a lab, under experimental conditions, with military funding. Any financial info. would be irrelevant.
that_guy
not rated yet Nov 18, 2011
@antialias, newsbeak - The fuel tanks are located in a plane's wings.

Not in those powered by human muscles. Those were the ones he was asking after.
http://en.wikiped...aircraft

mybad. Guess you're right about that.
hush1
not rated yet Nov 19, 2011
Under those conditions hydrogen is quite heavy (per volume). Much heavier than hydrogen in a pressurized or cryogenic tank (which already don't display any boyancy but are quite heavy.) - AP


No idea if "under those conditions hydrogen is quite heavy per volume" because no crystal lattice structure was offer by the researchers. When you state what you stated you are conjecturing. Without a crystal lattice structure what led you to your conjecture?
Newbeak
not rated yet Nov 19, 2011
@antialias, newsbeak - The fuel tanks are located in a plane's wings.

Not in those powered by human muscles. Those were the ones he was asking after.
http://en.wikiped...aircraft

mybad. Guess you're right about that.

At the end of the day,it probably doesn't matter anyway.H2 has a nasty habit of escaping between the molecules of any container holding it.Maybe use helium instead?
and7barton
not rated yet Nov 19, 2011
H2 has a nasty habit of escaping between the molecules of any container holding it.Maybe use helium instead?

Helium is even WORSE, isn't it ?
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 19, 2011

No idea if "under those conditions hydrogen is quite heavy per volume" because no crystal lattice structure was offer by the researchers. When you state what you stated you are conjecturing.

No conjecture. You can do the calculations yourself. The metallization of hydrogen in the other article talks about 200-300GPa (which is about 2-3 million atmospheres). A block of such hydrogen is MUCH heavier than the same volume of surrounding air (which is at one atmosphere pressure).

Liquid hydrogen (which you get at much lower pressures) is already about 14 times as heavy as water.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Nov 20, 2011
I wonder if this could be used as a substrate for harvesting power from plants. Trees like Willows or figs would grow around a lattice like this quite well. I would bet even plant tissure cultures could be grown right on the lattice.

http://www.youtub...=related

Tree power is already used to power smoke/fire detectors deep in national forests.

With some deft thought and design these lattices could be even built to harvest different compounds from the internal structures of plants, not really much different than harvesting sap for syrup making, just a little more complex.

If it could be made with piezoelectrical properties, a plant grown on it could provide energy every time the wind flexes the tree.

Artificial galls grown on a lattice could be tapped as well, just like insects use them as physiologic " sinks " to tap into the resources of the trees themselves.

I'm just thinking out loud again.
Callippo
5 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2011
Liquid hydrogen (which you get at much lower pressures) is already about 14 times as heavy as water
Density of liquid hydrogen is 67.8 kgm^3 i.e. about 14 times lighter than the water.
Newbeak
not rated yet Nov 20, 2011
H2 has a nasty habit of escaping between the molecules of any container holding it.Maybe use helium instead?


Helium is even WORSE, isn't it ?

Yes,you are right,my bad.Helium doesn't exist in the environment as a molecule,but rather as a single atom,and thus is more permeable due to it's smaller size.Although hydrogen is a smaller atom,it forms a two atom molecule which is bigger than a solitary helium atom.
hush1
not rated yet Nov 20, 2011
No conjecture. You can do the calculations yourself...., ..... Liquid hydrogen (which you get at much lower pressures) is already about 14 times as heavy as water.


You need a crystal lattice structure. There is none. There was none suggested or offered by the researchers. You insist on a fluid state to foster your claim.
"A block of such hydrogen is MUCH heavier than the same volume of surrounding air (which is at one atmosphere pressure). - AP"
Pure conjecture. "A block" implies a crystal lattice structure. Where is it? What is the geometric form used?
I will conjecture ice will float in water. And you will refute this by saying that is no conjecture.
Newbeak
not rated yet Nov 20, 2011
I'd like a sample of this stuff to play with..
jimbo92107
not rated yet Nov 20, 2011
What a fantastic new direction for materials research. Form a lattice template with a photopolymer, plate it with something, then chemically dissolve the insides. Imagine all the delightful variables there are to manipulate: The chemical makeup of the template polymer, the size and geometry of the lattice members, the chemical makeup of the plating material... It's tinker toys for grown ups!
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 21, 2011
You need a crystal lattice structure.

Why? Not all solids have a crystal lattice structure. There are plenty of amorphous solids. A 'block' does not impliy a crystal lattice.

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