It wasn’t so long ago that a metallic micro-lattice developed by HRL Laboratories, the California Institute of Technology and the University of California held the honour of being the world’s lightest material. Formed from a multitude of hollow tubes, each 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, researchers claimed the material could be utilised in battery electrodes or as way of dampening acoustics, shock and vibration.
The micro-lattice was not only strong, but incredibly light, almost 100 times lighter than Styrofoam, yet unbelievably aerographite is 100 percent lighter again, weighing less than 200 times that of Styrofoam.
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Similar in construction, aerographite is made predominantly from a structure of hollow carbon tubes, grown at a nano and micro scale and is 99.9 percent air. Under an electron microscope the material resembles a wisp of smoke, but to the naked eye is more similar to a black sponge.
Discovered by the scientists when researching three-dimensionally cross-linked carbon structures, aerographite is grown using zinc oxide templates allowing the creation of shapes up to several cubic centimetres in size.
Though mostly air, the material can not only be compressed by a factor of 1,000 and still spring back to its original shape, but can also support many times its own weight. Amazingly the material is also electrically conducive and chemically-resistant; with researchers indicating that aerographite could be either used as electrical shielding, help create an ultra-lightweight battery or be used elsewhere in MEMS (micro-electromechancial systems).
The team’s research has been published in the online journal Advanced Materials.