April 25, 2002 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Aerogel - it holds six world records for physical properties and is nicknamed 'blue smoke' for its appearance; unsurprising since it is 99.8% air. Despite being used in the NASA Stardust and Mars Pathfinder missions, aerogels are not a recent invention and they were first prepared in 1931. It's also a great insulator - here are some wonderful photos of it in action.
posted by adrianhon (19 comments total)
Beautiful stuff - makes me want to touch it.
posted by kokogiak at 12:47 PM on April 25, 2002

Very cool stuff. I had to do some searching to find the cost (about $1 per cubic cm). I'd love to have a jacket made out of this stuff along with insulating my house, but it looks like it might be a while before I can afford it!
posted by stormy at 12:51 PM on April 25, 2002

Ha - interesting answer to my thought (from page linked by stormy)

"What happens if I touch it?

Silica aerogel is semi-elastic because it returns to its original form if slightly deformed. If further deformed, a dimple will be created. However, if the elastic limit is exceeded, it will shatter catastrophically, like glass. "
posted by kokogiak at 12:55 PM on April 25, 2002

How do I make some? I read somewhere (a long time ago) that you can do it with silicone and a pressure cooker, though that sounds a bit like making a helicopter by turning a lawnmower upside down. har.
posted by dr_emory at 12:58 PM on April 25, 2002

awesome stuff. How do people come up with such ideas.
posted by adnanbwp at 12:59 PM on April 25, 2002

Some recipes for making aerogel (see the bottom of the page).
posted by adrianhon at 1:02 PM on April 25, 2002

So.. where can I buy some? Anyone?

BTW, Alfa Aesar doesnt sell it and they will sell you virtually any element in the periodic table (rhodium anyone?)
posted by vacapinta at 1:02 PM on April 25, 2002

Vacapinta, you can order some here.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:05 PM on April 25, 2002

At $975 and up for a 4x8x.5" block of the stuff (picture a tallish paperback book) they're not going to sell much just for playing with, but I guess that's hardly the market.

I note that they don't include a shipping and handling chart. How much can it possibly weigh, anyway?

"For .000 to .002 grams, add $7.50 shipping and handling.
For each .005 gram up to .01 grams, add an additional $5.00.
For UPS delivery, add an additional $9.75"
posted by yhbc at 1:17 PM on April 25, 2002

I first saw aerogels on the Discovery Channel's Beyond 2000 at least a decade ago, and was fascinated by the stuff. If you expose it to an environment largely composed of nitrogen gas, it'll float on air. (At least the type of aerogel they were using did.)
posted by Danelope at 1:20 PM on April 25, 2002

Cheaper than gold. What's in it that makes it so expensive? And about how much does it take to make it yourself?
posted by geoff. at 1:25 PM on April 25, 2002

This is a hoax, right? Man, that is just the cat's ass!
posted by briank at 1:29 PM on April 25, 2002

They mentioned the low sound speed properties that aerogels possess. I wonder if this stuff would be effective for sound insulation.
posted by ookamaka at 1:54 PM on April 25, 2002 first I thought the stuff could actually 'rest' on top of a flame. I really need to read more as opposed to just looking at all the pretty pictures. That stuff is the shit though.

BTW, could the brick in the photo at the bottom just learn to be itself and stop tying to be the monolith from '2001'?
posted by mathis23 at 2:49 PM on April 25, 2002

More pictures.
posted by NortonDC at 3:00 PM on April 25, 2002

Supercritical drying is the thing that makes it hard to do at home, although I found a few references to kids making this for science fairs. My pressure cooker only goes up to 15 ATM, though, so I can't imagine it'll do the trick.

AspenAerogels actually makes flexible blankets of the stuff, which has been used in clothing (4000 british pound clothing). Unfortunately, they don't seem the least interested in telling me how much it costs.
posted by daver at 3:11 PM on April 25, 2002

Could we please only have links like this one?? That stuff is awesome. I want to make something enormous with it.
posted by Settle at 5:10 PM on April 25, 2002

This stuff is freaky cool. I've never seen it before. Sweet.
posted by mikhail at 6:24 PM on April 25, 2002

My god. If anyone ever ramps up to serious industrial production, it'll be the greatest thing hikers have ever seen. Imagine replacing my lead-like three pound 0o sleeping bag with something made of this stuff. It would probably weigh about an ounce, and be rated to "What temperature you got?" Not to mention other kinds of expedition outerwear, which, despite materials advances, is still generally heavy and bulky.

I guess breathability would be something to worry about, but I know they're already making at least one jacket out of it, so it must not be an impossible problem. Probably lots of small beads of the stuff, possibly coated with something hydrophobic, then encapsulated in gore-tex or the like.

I want my aerogel sleeping bag!
posted by rusty at 9:27 PM on April 25, 2002

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