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Industry, Academic Team Creates Ultralight Material

Blue feather (Siona Karen/Flickr)Researchers at HRL Laboratories LLC in Malibu California, with colleagues from California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Irvine, have developed an ultralight material with a density of 0.9 milligrams per cubic centimeter (mg/cc). The substance, about 100 times lighter than Styrofoam packing material, is described in the November 18 issue of the journal Science (paid subscription required).

The new material has a cellular lattice-type architecture, fabricated at a scale as small as billions of a meter. The fabrication process consists of 99.99 percent open volume, by designing the 0.01 percent solid at millimeter to nanometer scales. “The trick,” says lead author Tobias Schaedler of HRL, “is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness of 100 nanometers, 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.”

The cellular architecture gives the material unusual properties for a metal. It can complete recover from compression exceeding 50 percent strain and has very high energy absorption similar to elastomers — polymers such as polyisoprene (natural rubber) or polyurethane (e.g. spandex) .

HRL developed the material for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with potential applications in battery electrodes, catalyst supports, and acoustic, vibration or shock energy damping. HRL — originally known as Hughes Research Laboratories when established in 1948 — is owned by the Boeing Company and General Motors.

Read more: Stretchable Sensory Material Created with Carbon Nanotubes

Photo: Siona Karen/Flickr

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