US scientists stake a claim for the world’s lightest material

Scientists at US universities claim they have developed the world’s lightest material.

A research team from University of California (UCI) Irvine, HRL Laboratories and the California Institute of Technology said that is has developed the world’s lightest material.

With a density of 0.9mg/cc the material is about 100 times lighter than Styrofoam.

The material is reportedly able to redefine the limits of lightweight materials because of its ’micro-lattice’ cellular architecture.

The researchers were able to make a material that consists of 99.99 per cent air by designing the 0.01 per cent solid at the nanometre, micron and millimetre scales.

‘The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair,’ said lead author Dr Tobias Schaedler of HRL.

The material’s architecture is said to allow unprecedented mechanical behaviour for a metal, including complete recovery from compression exceeding 50 per cent strain and extraordinarily high energy absorption.

‘Materials actually get stronger as the dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale,’ explained Lorenzo Valdevit, UCI mechanical and aerospace engineer, and the university’s principal investigator on the project.

‘Combine this with the possibility of tailoring the architecture of the micro-lattice and you have a unique cellular material,’ he said. 

Developed for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the material could possibly be used for battery electrodes and acoustic, vibration or shock energy absorption.

William Carter, manager of the architected materials group at HRL, compared the material to larger, more familiar edifices: ’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 revolutionising lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the nano and micro scales.’

The team’s findings have appeared in the journal Science.