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World's lightest material is 99.99 percent air [video]

World's lightest material is 99.99 percent air [video]

Posting in Architecture

A revolutionary "micro-lattice" material can improve battery electrodes and acoustic, vibration or shock energy absorption.

The lightest material in the world is almost as light as air.

In fact, it's made up of 99.99 percent air, weighs 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and can sit on a dandelion without even a hint of strain. The material, developed by researchers from UC Irvine, HRL Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology has a low density of 0.9 mg/cc, yet is quite strong. It can be compressed beyond 50 percent of its mass and return to its original shape as well as absorb high amounts of energy.

All this is made possible by designing the metallic material in the form of a "micro-lattice" cellular architecture, which basically means that everything is held together on the nanometer, micron and millimeter level. "The trick," said Tobias Schaedler of HRL, "is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair."

The research team arrived at this approach by looking at the architectural principles applied in the construction in lightweight, yet sturdy buildings found all over the world, explained William Carter, manager of the architected materials group at HRL. "Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architecture. We are revolutionizing lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the nano and micro scales."

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency commissioned the development of the unique material for applications in battery electrodes and acoustic, vibration or shock energy absorption.

Details of the research was published in the Nov. 18 issue of Science.

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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