This little block of loopy metal is 99.9 percent air and 100 times lighter than Styrofoam at 0.9 milligrams per cubic centimeter, making it the world's lightest solid material. But don't be mistaken, it still packs a big punch as its Caltech, HRL Laboratories, LLC, and the University of California, Irvine, creators envision its use in things like battery electrodes or protective shielding.
Here's an instance where nano technology strikes again (see also NASA Creates Super-Black Nano-Tech Material and the Nano Techno Rap) with hollow nickel-phosphorous tubes 1,000 thinner than human hair composing this material. But in the Caltech news release, Julia Greer -- assistant professor of materials science and mechanics and part of the research team that created the material -- said it isn't just about what composes the material, but how it's all oriented:
"We're entering a new era of materials science where material properties are determined not only by the microscopic makeup of the material but also by the architecture of the constituents," Greer says.
The new material, called a micro-lattice, relies, appropriately, on a lattice architecture: tiny hollow tubes made of nickel-phosphorous are angled to connect at nodes, forming repeating, asterisklike unit cells in three dimensions. Everything between the tubes is open air. In fact, the structure consists of 99.99% open volume. Tobias Schaedler, a research staff scientist at HRL Laboratories, LLC, and lead author on the report described it as "a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness of 100 nanometers, 1,000 times thinner than a human hair."
The design, which will be published in Friday's edition of Science, is based on order and hierarchy to make efficient use of materials. The press release compares this concept to the Eiffel Tower. In addition to be very light, it also absorbs energy well.