Ultra-lightweight materials are an incredibly cool area of materials science, bringing us crazy substances like aerogel. And now, for the first time, scientists have produced a metal that's so light it can balance on the fluff of a dandelion. Here's why this material is revolutionary — and how it's made.
Ultralight materials are usually made up of chaotic structures, like the bubbles in aerogel. But this metal is created out of a solid, repeating structure. It's called an ultralight metallic microlattice, and it's produced in an intriguing way. The method involves using a liquid photopolymer which solidifies when hit by ultraviolet radiation. Scientists shine light on the liquid through a pattern. Only the exposed bits of the liquid become solid, creating a lattice-work scaffold, which is then coated with nickel-phosphorous. Once the photopolymer is etched away, all that is left is a 3D, hollow lattice of metal which is more air than anything else.
This stuff weighs less than one milligram per cubic centimeter, completely bounces back after compression, and is made of a repeating lattice. It has incredible potential for use as thermal insulation; acoustic, vibration or shock dampening; energy absorption and recovery; and electronic parts. Me? I just want a chunk of this stuff to play with.
UPDATE: Now you can see a video of this metal in action.