Scientists Create World's Lightest Material

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Scientist from UC Irvine, CalTech and Hughes Research Laboratories have created the world's lightest material.

How light? The material, named 'Ultralight Metallic Microlattice' is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam, which should be expected from a material that is 99.99 percent air.

KGTV has more details.

"The Ultra-light Metallic Microlattice is so light, a block of it can balance on top of a dandelion. It's made from nickel, it's 1000 times thinner than a human hair, and strong! You can't believe how strong."

So, how strong is something that can be supported by a dandelion? The BBC reports:

"To study the strength of the metallic micro-lattices the team compressed them until they were half as thick. After removing the load the substance recovered 98% of its original height and resumed its original shape. ... 'Materials actually get stronger as the dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale,' said team member Lorenzo Valdevit."

MSNBC notes the strength of the material does not come from the nickel used to create it, but instead from its shape. The outlet spoke with a manager at the HRL Laboratories, who says to think of microlattice as the Eiffel Tower.

"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."

But how do you make an Eiffel Tower on a nano scale? CBS explains: Lasers!

"First, lasers beam ultraviolet light into a reservoir of a resin that forms polymer fibers when the light hits it. The fibers follow the path the light takes, and using multiple beams creates multiple interconnected fibers. Next, the rest of the resin is washed away, the polymer fibers are coated with a very thin layer of nickel, and the polymer fibers are then dissolved, leaving only the metal lattice."

Impressive stuff. The LA Times wonders how we can use this complicated material in a practical way.

"That's still to be determined. ... UCI's principal investigator on the project, brought up impact protection, uses in the aerospace industry, acoustic dampening and maybe some battery applications."

Still, microlattice might be used for much more than acoustics -- CBS notes that the research was conducted for the United States' Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

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