Scientists create world’s lightest material out of metal

Using hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, researchers create the world’s lightest material out of metal.

A team of researchers from the University of California (UC) Irvine, HRL Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology have developed an ultralight material out of metal – with a density of 0.9 mg/cc – about one hundred times lighter than Styrofoam™. Their findings appear in the November 18, 2011, issue of Science.

The new material redefines the limits of lightweight materials because of its unique “microlattice” 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, micrometer and millimeter scales.

A new metal material, which is 99.99 percent air, is so light that it can sit atop dandelion fluff without damaging it. Image Credit: Dan Little, HRL Laboratories LLC

Lead author Tobias Schaedler of HRL said:

The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

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.

UCI mechanical and aerospace engineer Lorenzo Valdevit, UCI’s principal investigator on the project, said:

Materials actually get stronger as the dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale. Combine this with the possibility of tailoring the architecture of the microlattice 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 materials by bringing this concept to the nano and micro scales.

Bottom line: A paper published November 18, 2011, in the journal Science describes the invention of what is likely the world’s lightest material — one hundred times lighter than Styrofoam™ — and made of metal. The team of researchers — from the University of California (UC) Irvine, HRL Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology — attributes its lightness to a microlattice cellular architecture designed at the nanometer, micrometer and millimeter scales.

Via UC Irvine Today

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