Light as a feather is heavy compared to the new lightweight material developed by U.S. engineers. They tout the new material as one hundred times lighter than Styrofoam, yet it offers extreme energy absorption. Experts say the material could be used in batteries and vehicles in the future. The material was developed through a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Research conducted at the Irvine campus of the University of California produced this new breakthrough material. They published a complete report of their work in the Science journal. In it, engineers describe how they produced hollow metal tubes with walls a thousand times thinner than a hair and assembled these tubes in a lattice structure. The result was a material with a density of less than a milligram per cubic centimeter, a significant improvement over what previously held the world-record for light solid material.
Surprisingly, the lightness of the new material results from its nearly total composition from the air that contributes to its weight. Only about .01 percent of it is solid. However, its lattice design makes the material stronger than other substances that have randomly structured cells. In other words, the strength of this new material lies in its orderly construction.
A spokesperson from HRL laboratories, a partner in the development of this new material, compares it to famous bridges and structures around the world that are very efficient for their weight. Structures like the Eiffel Tower, for example, gain strength from their design.
The project that was facilitated by the California Institute of Technology applied the principles of large-scale architecture to microscopic scales. However, the elasticity of the new material is a property that holds much potential in business and industry.
To test the power of this material to absorb energy, the team of engineered squeezed the tiny lattices until they were only half the size. When released, the material regained almost all of its original form, a resiliency that outperforms most known substances. Subsequent compression of the material failed to diminish the form of the material, suggesting that it is as durable as it is powerful.
Making new cellular structures designed to withstand impact or store energy has much potential for the military as well. According to FellowGeek.com, the material will work well as thermal and acoustic insulation and as shock absorbers for sensitive equipment.
As with many technologies developed under the auspices of the military, experts believe that this lightweight but strong lattice material will quickly find its way into industrial and commercial applications.