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Breakthrough: This metal is almost as light as air

Illustration for article titled Breakthrough: This metal is almost as light as air

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.

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Can we get a source article on this?

Actually nickel-phosphorous has a density of 7.6-8.2g/cm3. Its not the metal that is light as air, its the structure. Which is just as cool.

I remember visiting a lab on the air force base near where I live and they had these mock-fuel tanks about 2 feet tall. They had one made the traditional way, and one using a new layering method. The old ones were really heavy but the new ones were light enough that we could toss them back and forth like basketballs.

I am curious about the compressability mentioned above. At what forces does it compress and to what extent. Having crushed enough stuff in my day I know that all material has its limits. Eventially material fatigue would occur. I would love to test some out and find its limits. I wonder what its tensile strength is.