This isn’t exactly breaking news… in fact it’s almost a year old. Lucky for me though, the free newspaper primarily distributed throughout the Greater Vancouver transit system is severely behind the times when it comes to most things of scientific interest, so I only learned of it when they decided to publish a piece about it.
Anyway, for those already aware of this, consider it a refresher… for all the others, the most concise and informative summary I could find was on good ol’ io9:
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.