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New and improved aerogel is world's lightest material

Posting in Design

For the longest time, aerogel was the lightweight champion of the world. But over the last few years, it's been bested by a number of lab creations such as a micro-lattice material comprised of 99.99 percent air and aerographite, which barely grazed the scale at 0.2 milligrams.

Now Chinese scientists at Zhejiang University claimed to have brought the title back by developing a new-and-improved ultra-light version called graphene aerogel. It's not as pretty as the original "frozen smoke," but it does boast a density of only 0.16 mg per cubic centimeter and is made much the same way as original aerogel. But instead of simply drying the material, lead researcher Gao Chao and his team freeze-dried solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene to remove moisture while retaining the material's integrity.

One big advantage of this, Chao points out, is that the process for making aerogels is much more suitable for mass production than the previous approach. And like the other airy wonders, it possesses elastic properties that enable it to be compressed and returned back to its original shape.

In addition, it boasts an impressive capacity for absorbing oil, up to 900 times their own weight. “Carbon aerogel is expected to play an important role in pollution control such as oil spill control, water purification and even air purification,” Chao says.

Now the team is conducting further research on the material's potential application, which includes energy storage insulation, catalytic carrier and sound-absorption. Details were published online in the journal Advanced Materials, as well as the “Research Highlights” column in Nature.

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— By on March 26, 2013, 9:20 PM PST

Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure