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Scientists create world's lightest material

The microlattice made almost entirely of air and 0.01 percent solid matter is so light it can rest comfortably on a dandelion without damaging it.

A team of researchers claim to have developed the lightest solid material on earth, a “metallic microlattice" that is feather-like and stiff as a board.

The microlattice, created by scientists from Caltech, HRL Laboratories, LLC, and the University of California, Irvine, is almost entirely made up of air and 0.01 percent solid matter, and is so light that it can rest comfortably on a dandelion without damaging it.

Bill Carter, manager of the architected materials group at HRL, said, "It’s sort of like a feather -- it floats down, and its terminal velocity depends on the density. It takes more than 10 seconds, for instance, for the lightest material we’ve made to fall if you drop it from shoulder height."

The ultra lightness of the microlattice is attributed to a cellular architecture that supports a material structure that consists of 99.99 percent air.

What is the ultra light substance made of?
The material, made primarily of nickel, is about a hundred times lighter than Styrofoam. It is made of tiny hollow metallic tubes arranged in a crisscross diagonal pattern with walls a thousand times thinner than a human hair.

The ultra lightness of the microlattice is attributed to a cellular architecture that supports a material structure that consists of 99.99 percent air.

"The emergence of the unique properties of these ultra-light micro-lattice structures is due, in part, to the different mechanical behavior that emerges in nano-sized solids, which is the focus of my research," said Julia Greer, assistant professor of materials science and mechanics.

Use of the material
The use of such a material is still to be determined. Considering its ultra-low density, incredible strength, and “extraordinarily high energy absorption” properties, the material can be used for thermal insulation, battery electrodes, or protective shielding.

It could also be used effectively in the aerospace industry as shock and vibration absorbers, and maybe for blast resistant structures that could have military uses.

Lorenzo Valdevit, UCI's principal investigator on the project, said the material possesses "a combination of stiffness, strength and weight. You end up with a material that is exceptionally lightweight, and mechanically efficient at that weight."