NASA researchers replace silica with polymers to create more flexible aerogels

Sep 28, 2012 by Bob Yirka weblog
Credit: NASA's Glenn Research Center

(Phys.org)—Back in the early thirties, the story goes, a couple of unknown chemists set about betting one another as to whether they could remove the water from a jelly that had been gelled with pectin, without causing the jelly to shrink. The resultant efforts produced what are known today as aerogels, sometimes referred to as liquid smoke because of their very low densities. Chemists have produced them by mixing silica based materials with water, then removing the water via supercritical drying. Unfortunately, the material produced is very brittle and thus easily broken which limits its use. Because of this researchers at NASA's Glenn Research Center looked to polymers (types of plastics) to see if a new type of aerogel could be created that would be less brittle.

In the research, led by Mary Ann B. Meador, who described the teams' efforts at a recent national meeting of the , the group first tried coating the with various polymers to see if they could reduce the brittleness, but such efforts proved very slow and the results exhibited low melting temperatures, which reduced their usefulness. For those reasons, they wondered if it might not be possible to simply replace the silica with some type of altogether, because the only purpose of the silica in the first place was to allow for a structure to exist. The problem of course, is that with most such polymers, when subjected to supercritical drying, they tend to shrink, just like jellies back in the thirties. Thus, the team had to find another approach.

That approach involved cross linking certain polymers with a bridging compound resulting in a new polymer that was stiff enough to hold its shape when subjected to supercritical drying, yet would remain flexible overall; an approach that worked so well that the team was able to create several different types of polymer aerogels that exhibit extraordinary properties.

Some of the new examples proved to be exceedingly strong; enough so to support a car when constructed as a thick slab and placed under a tire, the team reports. Others could be made into thin sheets with superb thermal resistance due to their being up to 95% air, which opens the door to a myriad of possibilities ranging from sleeping bag linings to new kinds of refrigerator insulation.

More importantly perhaps, at least to the research team, this being NASA after all, are the possibilities the new aerogels allow for future space missions, from space suit insulators to decelerator vehicle components that could one day help craft make it safely through the oftentimes harsh atmospheres found on other planets.

Explore further: Researchers develop a novel device to image the minute forces and actions involved in cell membrane hemifusion

More information:
Polyimide Aerogels
Polymer Aerogels Provide Insulation For Earth And Space

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Why Americans can't buy some of the best sunscreens

3 hours ago

With summer nearly here, U.S. consumers might think they have an abundance of sunscreen products to choose from. But across the Atlantic, Europeans will be slathering on formulations that manufacturers say provide better ...

Expanding the code of life with new 'letters'

3 hours ago

The DNA encoding all life on Earth is made of four building blocks called nucleotides, commonly known as "letters," that line up in pairs and twist into a double helix. Now, two groups of scientists are reporting ...

'Cold soak' process turns up the heat on wines

4 hours ago

Those pondering which elements make the best drop of wine may be surprised to learn different climates produce mixed results when it comes to wines made using the 'cold soak' process.

Devices designed to identify pathogens in food

5 hours ago

Researchers at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) in Mexico have developed a technology capable of identifying pathogens in food and beverages. This technique could work in the restaurant industry as ...

Biosensor may improve clinical diagnosis of influenza A

7 hours ago

Sensors based on special sound waves known as surface acoustic waves (SAWs) are capable of detecting tiny amounts of antigens of Influenza A viruses. Developed by A*STAR researchers, the biosensors have the ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

daqman
5 / 5 (4) Sep 28, 2012
I'm fairly certain that "liquid smoke" is something that you get in the supermarket for flavouring foods. Aerogels are often referred to as "solid smoke".
Tausch
1 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2012
Perhaps the motivation is the space shuttle's ceramic tiling - a brilliant innovation with brittleness as an Achilles heel.
Tausch
1 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2012
As second thought this is ideal to replace the air in all tires.
Akron is the headquarters of all tire producing companies in the world - they must decide if such a solution serves their interest.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.