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Keeping it light
November 22, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

The world's lightest material -- 100 times lighter than styrofoam -- has been created at UC Irvine & CIT. It's a metal alloy with surprising compression strength.
posted by msalt (42 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
("Caltech" is the more commonly used short form for the California Institute of Technology. And no space betwee the "Cal" and the "tech", please.)
posted by Slothrup at 12:45 PM on November 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


make a bike out of it and sell it to weenies
posted by rocketman at 12:52 PM on November 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


The material is interesting, the pedantry less so.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:53 PM on November 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I needs a catchy name. I vote for Wonderflonium.
posted by Danf at 12:57 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


world’s lightest material – with a density of 0.9 mg/cc... 99.99 percent air

Cool structure. However, I don't understand their density numbers. According to wikipedia, air is 1.2 mg/cc, so this is somehow lighter than air despite being mostly air with the rest metal. Furthermore, 0.01% Nickel at 8900 mg/cc and 99.99% air at 1.2 mg/cc would have a combinded density of 2.09 mg/cc.
posted by jpdoane at 1:01 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


In another fun note, Carter told the Los Angeles Times that the material floats to the ground like a feather if dropped from the air, taking 10 seconds to reach the ground when released from shoulder-height.

!!!
posted by loquacious at 1:02 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The previous world's lightest material. In my humble opinion, it looks cooler. Alas, Aerogel, your time in the sun was so short...
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:03 PM on November 22, 2011


Move over, aerogel!
posted by smammy at 1:03 PM on November 22, 2011


I vote for Wonderflonium.

Wonderflonillium.
posted by griphus at 1:07 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not really an alloy, it's a forming process. They state that they think they can use the same process to make ultra-low density object from other materials. The actual metal alloy is Ni-P, which is often called electroless nickel, because of it being used in electroless nickel plating.

It's an amazing bit of work.

Move over, aerogel!

Doubt it. Different materials for different things. For example, I'm confident this isn't a hundredth of the insulator that silica aerogels are.
posted by eriko at 1:07 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Virtually indestructible, yet it breathes like Egyptian cotton.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:10 PM on November 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


According to wikipedia, air is 1.2 mg/cc, so this is somehow lighter than air despite being mostly air with the rest metal.

They measure the density under vaccuum to avoid this. All ultralight material densities are measured this way.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 1:21 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ah, that makes sense. Thanks
posted by jpdoane at 1:27 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know they say it's 99.99% air, but I don't think they literally meant to count the air as a part of the material.

I'm disappointed I haven't seen any clear indication on how strong it is. They have that video of it compressing and rebounding, which is cool, but how much pressure did it take to compress it that far? They show it on top of a dandelion, which shows how light it is, but can they do it the other way around?
posted by RobotHero at 1:31 PM on November 22, 2011


(off-topic)
"Caltech" is the more commonly used short form for the California Institute of Technology.

Why isn't MIT referred to as Masstech?
posted by milnak at 1:40 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I vote for Wonderflonium.

Wonderflonillium.

Dandelighter.

posted by Kabanos at 1:42 PM on November 22, 2011


An example of my sleep-deprived brain in action, over the course of about five seconds:
OK, what am I looking at.

That's a dandelion.

OK, dandelion. Got something on top of it.

Some block or something.

Block or something on top of a dandelion.

Block or something... on top of a dandelion?

(eyes bug out, jaw drops)
posted by Flunkie at 1:43 PM on November 22, 2011




I'm disappointed I haven't seen any clear indication on how strong it is.

The Science article gives its stiffness as ~100 kPa and its yield strength as ~1-10 kPa. This is much more compliant than warm rubber, and moving towards foams and complex fluids (fluids with some elastic character) such as mayo or ketchup. An M&M would visibly dent such a material.
posted by Mapes at 1:50 PM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just had to say, the fact that both Metafilter and my academic materials research group discussed this paper today makes me very happy indeed.

(Here's the original paper (subscription required))

The neat thing about this paper is that the recoverable deformation stems from the structure of the lattice, not the nickel itself. It's analogous to eggshells supporting massive amounts of weight-- the material itself does not deform elastically, but the way the strain is distributed throughout the structure helps it compress and rebound. Another good analogy would be the way the Eiffel tower distributes its weight over its framework so that it doesn't exert too much strain on any one piece.

They've already shown that similar lattices made out of polymers also exhibit similar behaviour. It won't be too hard to make silica or other ceramics that have the same structure, and hopefully the same ultralight/deformable properties.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 1:51 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does it have a negative Poisson ratio, beepbeepboopboop?
posted by jamjam at 2:04 PM on November 22, 2011


An M&M would visibly dent such a material.

Indeed, its resilience is best measured with a milliM&Mometer instead of the nanobananagraph.
posted by fleacircus at 2:07 PM on November 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


At last, we can finally make hats for dandelions.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:07 PM on November 22, 2011


> recoverable deformation

Hope for a new form of wind-up energy storage that does better than watchsprings?

I'm hoping for a rigid ultra-lightweight material -- something that won't deform. Put that inside a big airtight bag, pump the air out, and we'll have a science-fiction dream, the vacuum blimp.
posted by hank at 2:16 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does it have a negative Poisson ratio, beepbeepboopboop?

I'm not a materials engineer (just a materials chemist), but I don't think so. You can see in the compression video that the lattice expands horizontally as it is compressed vertically. Hopefully an engineer can correct me if I'm wrong, though.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 2:20 PM on November 22, 2011


Is that way of saying nanometre ( na-nom-etre ) in the video common for Americans? If so, I wonder if that's because you're unused to saying metre, and are therefore comfortable breaking it up, whereas metric users would more typically say na-no-metre.
posted by wilful at 2:34 PM on November 22, 2011


Fascinating stuff, but thank heavens for the article. The guy in the attached video had the most crushingly dull voice I've ever heard outside of NPR.
posted by mikoroshi at 2:36 PM on November 22, 2011


to me, a micROMeter is an instrument, and a MICroMETer is a measurement. But kilOMeter is a measurement.

Go idiosyncracy!
posted by Fraxas at 2:37 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Poisson's ratio (lateral expansion normalized to axial compression) for the whole material is nearly zero, as with cork and other foams, and as shown in the video. The Poisson's ratio for the strut material is larger (perhaps around 0.3 for metal struts), but there's nothing driving the bulk material to expand laterally upon compression, as there's so much space between the struts as they bend.
posted by Mapes at 2:39 PM on November 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Press outlets around the world were bowled over last week by an especially lite news item: The announcement that researchers at several California universities and HRL Laboratories managed to create the world’s lightest material, “metallic micro lattice,” which has a density of 0.9 mg per cubic centimeter, about 100 times lighter than styrofoam.

I am interested in the news but that is about the worst lead paragraph ever written by -- presumably -- a native speaker. "Lite?" Ho-ho! "Bowled over?" Sounds like the writer is going for a pun, but I have no idea what the referent is. And why do popular science writers fear fractions so? I can only surmise they mean one one-hundredth the weight of Styrofoam. Or really, polystyrene foam, as Styrofoam is a trademark and is no more a genericized trademark than Coca-Cola or Mickey Mouse. It is fine for casual conversation, but jouranlists should have higher standards. Why yes, I used to be an editor; does it show?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:07 PM on November 22, 2011


Is that way of saying nanometre ( na-nom-etre ) in the video common for Americans?

Narp. I've only heard it pronounced "NAN-o-ME-ter"
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:19 PM on November 22, 2011


Hmmmm ... if this stuff turns out to be cheap enough and easy enough to work with, I can see a lot more interesting deformable structures in the near future.

Cars and airplanes ... race cars especially. You could do crazy stuff with the crash structures on a Le Mans car with stuff like this.
posted by Relay at 4:15 PM on November 22, 2011


Why yes, I used to be an editor; does it show?

I'm an editor and I feel your pain, I also tend to make typos while berating the jourons. :)
posted by hat_eater at 5:28 PM on November 22, 2011


They measure the density under vaccuum to avoid this.

No, they don't have to do this. The air in the lattice is buoyed by all the other air that surrounds us. You put the lattice on a lab balance and read the weight; you get the weight of the structural materials of the lattice, not including the air within. If you could magically surround the lattice with a weightless membrane that excluded air, and if the lattice didn't collapse under the air pressure when you pumped it to vacuum, THEN it would float away.
posted by localroger at 6:15 PM on November 22, 2011


You could do crazy stuff with the crash structures on a Le Mans car with stuff like this

You wouldn't really want to, though- the ideal behavior of a crash structure is to absorb energy, not to reversbly deform and then spring back.
posted by hattifattener at 6:21 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'll be impressed when they invent a material that they can't make a battery out of.
posted by digsrus at 6:39 PM on November 22, 2011



the material itself does not deform elastically, but the way the strain is distributed throughout the structure helps it compress and rebound.

If the deformation and stored energy is recovered when it is unloaded, how is this not deforming elastically?
posted by crashlanding at 10:47 PM on November 22, 2011


I'm also curious to see how this structure responds under shear and tension.

Also, as hattifattener said, anyone who is suggesting that this material would be a good energy absorber has to look at the numbers that Mapes posted. While high ductility is a plus, if the applied stress is as small as 10 kPa (which is tiiiiiny) it's not going to give you even a fraction of what a typical polymer will.

Maybe a structure like this would be good for filtering or something but, from a structural standpoint, it's pretty worthless.
posted by crashlanding at 11:00 PM on November 22, 2011


Thirding that his unconventional pronunciation of nanometer caught my attention more than the material described.
posted by 7segment at 1:20 AM on November 23, 2011


I'm thinking decorative cat armor.

It'd be so light, kitty wouldn't even notice it, so he'd just walk around looking all badass.

I should probably get some sleep.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:30 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ultra-light armor for your khajit, BOP?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:40 AM on November 23, 2011


You know me too well, Durn.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:56 PM on November 23, 2011


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