It was a simple e-mail. But with just a few words, it capsulized the exact moment of an exciting scientific discovery.
"Check out the world's lightest material: 0.85 mg/cc!!" scientist Toby Schaedler wrote to his teammates at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California. "It is holding up fine even after I squeezed it a little."
Six months later, HRL is announcing its discovery for the first time in a study published in November's Science magazine. When Light Years talked to physicist Bill Carter and project manager Leslie Momoda, the giddiness of inventing the lightest solid substance hadn't yet worn off. They were, well, practically floating on air.
"About a year ago, we were looking to create a competitive edge for our owners General Motors and Boeing," Carter said Monday. "Leslie threw down this challenge: If, in the future, fuel efficiency is everything, is there something we can do that's really new in the area of lightweight materials?"
The result was something informally named metallic microlattice - because the tiny hollow tubes are interconnected in a crisscross mesh or grid pattern, like a lattice window screen or garden trellis.
Exactly what is this stuff?
Well, for one, it's airy - 99.99% air. The rest of it is made mostly of nickel alloy. It weighs in at 100 times lighter than Styrofoam. It can sit atop a dandelion without crushing it. Also, the stuff is really, really thin - made of teeny-tiny interconnected hollow tubes - so small that the walls of the tubes are only a few hundred atoms thick, at 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.
What does it do?
Metallic microlattice absorbs energy. When it's compressed, it bounces back to its original shape, its inventors say. Developed for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the stuff might one day be used in the manufacture of battery electrodes, according to HRL. The substance could eventually lead to the development of stronger, lightweight car bodies, aircraft fuselages or even protective body armor for troops, Carter said.
What makes it so strong?
A lot of the metallic microlattice's performance comes from its design. Like the Eiffel Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge, but on a much, much bigger scale, the arches give it a lot of strength for its relative light weight, Carter said.
Who made it?
HRL has a bit of a historic legacy to live up to. The company, which used to belong to enigmatic millionaire Howard Hughes, gave birth to the world's first laser 50 years ago. It also invented a semiconductor that was the basis for all modern integrated circuits.
Momoda asked her team to create a material that will improve fuel efficiency in aircraft or vehicles.
"If you make a car lighter, then people perceive a loss of safety," she said. "Our job is to try to figure out how to make it lightweight - or to take mass out of it - but preserve function."
How'd they do it?
After HRL invented the microlattice, it collaborated with the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Irvine, to learn more about the microlattice's mechanical properties and the nickel alloy.
Actually, the invention began with a technique developed in 2007 by HRL scientist Alan Jacobsen. His innovation, teammates said, was creating a production process that could be replicated on a large scale.
In a nutshell, here's a basic description of how to make this micromarvel:
First, scientists use ultraviolet light to "grow" a tiny template of polymer fibers: The light is shined through a tiny perforated mask and into a reservoir of resin, which cures under the beams of light created by the holes in the mask. A microscopic polymer fiber forms along each of the tiny light beams, which are designed to interconnect and form a lattice pattern. The remaining resin is washed out, leaving a polymer template. Scientists then coat that template with a thin layer of nickel, and the polymer is then dissolved, leaving only the nickel microlattice.
What substance used to be the lightest solid material?
If HRL Laboratories' claim bears out, it would beat the low-weight density record set by a NASA-created substance called aerogel, which was declared by Guinness World Records as the lightest solid, at 3 milligrams per cubic centimeter. The HRL substance is 0.85 milligrams per cubic centimeter. The aerogel was invented for use aboard NASA's Stardust spacecraft, which captured particles from a comet in 2004.
Light Years was curious about the creative process among HRL scientists and how it feeds their work. In many cases, Momoda said, simple face-to-face contact and hallway chatter breed creativity. It comes down to two words: "What if ... "
"One scientist might stop in the hall to chat with another," she said. "And one might say, 'Hey, I don't know something about this, but you do, and what if ... ' Sometimes, a lot of really great things can happen when you do that."
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I thought we had already created nanotubes? Sooo, is nickel lighter than carbon? I'd also have to mention that "weaving it into a porch screen type arrangemet," would weaken it rather than laying out in a 0 – 90 degree set of layers. (like as in unidirectional spectra or dyneem).. Which is of course "real body armor." Where can I apply?
The past tense of shine is shone.
Now make one out of carbon nano tubes, and then get us a space elevator, please.
This particular technique will not work for carbon nanotubes, unfortunately. While I would love to see it, the relative weakness of carbon nanotubes to compression, shear, or torsion probably means they are not an appropriate material for a space elevator.
Any new substance than can possibly save a gallon or 2 of fuel in weight savings & have the same or greater strength should be the #1 goal of auto makers period.
How many shares of Exxon do you own?
"The light is shined through a tiny perforated mask and into a reservoir of resin..." Interesting. Now, tell us more about this resin. From what natural resource did it originate?
I doubt the tech will make it to improve car's fuel efficiency.. however.. that's not what we need to focus upon.. these materials can be used to give an edge to renewable fuels production. This is what you worry about big oil crushing.. ANY technology can can reduce demand for a monopoly product: CRUDE OIL. Also, I'd like to see better batteries across the board, particularly very strong, fast rechargeable, high capacity batteries of all shapes & sizes! The other important thing is that the stuff be DIRT CHEAP to make.. remember titanium, cabon fiber and the like.. super duper expensive and never a real commercial success story.. Intel and Amd made silicon... sourced from SAND into chips worth BILLIONS of dollars... If you make this material part an parcel of a monopoly/duopoly company you end up with too much power in too few hands.. reward innovation, but make real leaps forward in FAIRNESS to the consumer, or else you can wipe your butt with the material.
So we can understand your need to say this invention is of no consequence, tell us what brilliant product you invented.
TMC: I don't UNDERSTAND what you're WHINING about with this ARTICLE.
WOW! Another miraculous invention for big oil, or those in bed with them. We probably won't see any benefit from this until all the crude is gone. "When fuel efficiency is everything"? Please. We already have the tech to get 200+ now, but we probably won't ever see that either. And even if we do, a gallon will cost ya 50 bucks or more. So now we can get cars that you can tip over, that is so exciting. I say keep making neat little hats for dandelions.
What are you talking about? Car makers are not Under control of big oil. What technology can get us 200+ mpg in passenger vehicles like the ones people drive now? I'm not talking about some tiny one or staggered-two seat vehicle you saw winning a hyperbole challenge I'm talking one that is not too different in form and function and safety from whats being sold now.
Believe me if the tech exists then any automaker "brave" enough to sell it would quickly dominate the entire market because everyone would want it and that automaker would be the undisputed tech and enviro KING.
And you want me to believe that they trade that in to keep oil companies happy. You're full of it.
Big Oil has more control than you will let yourself believe. A man in my home town modified his car and was able to get amazing gas mileage. After refusing to sell his technology to the oil companies, he committed suicide and all his work disappeared. I've heard of a couple similar stories from around the country. One theme that has run through the entire history of this country is that corporations will do anything to make money whether or not it benefits or hurts mankind.
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Are you just typing random sentences?
He's a spammer, very possibly a 'bot.
iiieeeeee! I am standing here beside myself!
Relax maaaaaaan! You can use this stuff as a particle filter for bong!
Elliot Gould invented and subsequently patented the Laser. HRL built the first Ruby laser. They didn't call it a laser, the term coined by Gould. They called it a photon MASER, I believe. Anyway, Gould did not get the Nobel Prize, only the patent.
Actually, it was Gordon Gould that you meant. Elliot Gould is an American actor whom I doubt had the time between projects like EATING RAOUL, to research what would become laser technology. ~
I thought it was Elliot Ness!
damn you people are stupid.
this is called nanotechnology. stop watching tv and playing video games and educate your silly minds.
this is quite interesting. the writer of the article should have gone further in investigating the possible uses of these kinds of materials. is this based on carbon nano-tubes? for you idiots, the fact that it is 99%+ air does not imply it can not be used in cars. materials made of carbon nano-tubes exhibit greater strength than regular materials and weigh significantly less. this means you could have a car that can withstand 10 times the impact of current cars, yet weighs 10 times less.
that is why i keep saying the us should hedge its future (in manufacturing) in nano-tech. that is the future.
Your points would have been more effective without the vitriol. Please dial it back next time. Thanks.
Shut up, Brad.
“this is called nanotechnology. stop watching tv and playing video games and educate your silly minds”
1. It is from T.V. such as Star Trek that we have gotten most of the ideas for today’s tech. Cell phones, GPS, tablet computers and so on.
2. Much like T.V. video games inspire new tech and fans of such video games are far more familiar with the basic concepts of advanced tech such as nanotechnology than non-gamers.
So with respect please educate YOURself.
Okay everybody it's time to go to sleep
Wait a minute, you mean to tell me that a material that is 99.99% air could possibly have a future as a material that cars are made from?? I 'm callin Shenanigan's on this one...
It'd never work. Suppose the entire car body was made of it. Sounds like bumper cars, huh? Only the engine weighs in at about 500 pounds or so and that mass isn't going to be stopped by a honeycomb of anything. Mass is mass and no matter how soft the impact 'feels' at 30 or 50 mph, that mass is going move or stop and you'll do the same. There's no getting around physics. Further, those metal tubes are probably like razors. You hitting them at 50mph would probably be akin to you being pushed through a vegomatic set on "dice". They'll be picking you up with tweezers.
I disagree... look at the way kevlar works...
That's pretty stupid, pretty much everything you said Mr. C. Venger. I assume you are picturing cars made out of a pure, unsupported and completely exposed lattice? There is no rule against using this material IN PART to create a vehicle as opposed to using this material exclusively. It isn't too hard to imagine a vehicle whose bumpers and insides were padded with this material instead of heavy roll cages and structural supports. No laws of nature or physics decree that an engineer be forced to use this material exclusively in the creation of anything. Simply integrating it into current structures (adapted, obviously, for the new material) could lead to massive leaps in efficiency.
get a clue. You are 99.99% vacuum.
Okay you guys, fun is fun, but give Obama his brain back! You are SO grounded!
There goes that pesky science again. If they can't make clothing out of oil, then it's un-American.
Think you mean to say: if they can’t make crosses out of oil
It's ironic that they make lighter materials as the citizens are weighing more.
This material is inexplicably coherent and obtusely redundant of the equilateral conferral of the thing. It's not going to work upon a lily pad let alone this unobtrusive obstruction of whimsical nature you see here. I am flabbergasted by this approach and you have offended by mother coequally.
Big deal. Congress is 99.99% hot air.
You are wrong. Congress is mostly lithium and recycled methane. That weighs more.
Congress may be 99.99% hot air, but they have a MUCH higher density.
I thought they were going to talk about Aero chocolate bars. I've see them in Canada. They are mostly air with a little bit of chocolate. They're stupid.
Awhh, c'mon! Chocolate bars that float in the bathtub? What could be stupid about that??!!
Uh...that ain't a chocolate bar..
I admit that I was evaluating Aero bars purely as a chocolate bar and had not considered their merit as a novelty item. Buying an Aero bar for a heavy person who is really looking forward to eating a chocolate bar could be an amusing practical joke.
I hope that Nestle does not sue HRL Labratories for infringing on their Aero bar patents.
random. just random man.
Oh, I thought they invented the world's strongest genetically engineered dandelion.
100x lighter than styrofoam and able 2 be tossed back in the smelter...not bad.
AAAAWWAAH DAMN HERE COME THE HEMROIDS!!
"If you make a car lighter, then people perceive a loss of safety" It's not just a perceived loss of safety. Regardless of how strong the material is, If your vehicle is much lighter than the one you collide with, then most of the energy will be transferred to you. That's not a safe situation.
actually it would be better if ALL cars and trucks were lighter than air but also strong, safety wise when you hit something at 100MPH you would simply bounce off and your vehicle spring back into shape. I think the weight of a four cylinder motor car should be driven down so far that a single person can turn it over or push it off the road. This means everything must lose weight: the tires must be thin, the wheels plastic, the motor smaller ceramic/alloy , the seats thin molds, the number of opening joins reduced to two or three [doors/bonnets]
Thats called the Robin and it was a flop.
Answer this question. If the car were so light that one person could turn it over, how would you expect it to be able to stay on the road in windy conditions ?
Good point tif.
My truck already gets pushed around the road in high wind. I'd hate to imagine what would happen if it weighed so little that I alone could flip it.
My motorcycle weighs 373 Lbs. I can flip it… and I don’t get blown off the road. Weight is only one aspect. Aerodynamics is another.
No, what really matters is the time it takes you to stop moving. You can do that be adding mass. But also with very light and soft structures like air bags. The old joke really is true. It is not the fall that kills you, it's the sudden stop. Same here.
They never really said how strong it is though. It may be light weight but could be fragile.
My name is Jackson, you know.
I'm skeptical this can be considered a material in the same way as Aerogel. Aerogel is homogeneous – solid matter. This is a lattice made of very thin metal parts and a very clever weave pattern. But it's not "a solid". Still, way cool. Can't wait to see how this affects aircraft and spacecraft design, helmet design, etc.
Completely agree, obviously not homgeneous and I don't think having a matrix of air really qualifies it as a composite :p But it's definitely an interesting concept. If it can be done large-scale (big if, I know) I'd be curious to try this with steel given how cheap it is compared to nickel.
Aerogels at their lowest densities are hardly homogeneous! If you look at low-density aerogel at a microscopic scale it is still mostly air – except for small silica "fibers" that look like random strands of pearls. It all depends on your perspective.
Maybe we need to redefine our definition of what is a solid.
I agree too - it's more like a solid structure. I certainly wouldn't call it a "solid" in the traditional sense.
The most important question CNN forgot to ask: How much does it cost to produce?
How much did the first laser cost to produce? Millions? I understand your curiosity but most often when anything is in the "discovery" stage the costs have no relevance to production costs for the market.
Also a raw cost of production number is usually meaningless. Let's say it cost an extra $100 million to build a 727 size airliner with this material. $100 million sure sounds like a lot. But what if it saves $200 million in fuel costs over life of the airline? (I'm ignoring the cost value of money at the moment. But that could be factored in.)
Let's let our imaginations go a bit further – spacecraft that can go 10,000 times faster with the same plasma engines available now – perhaps a medical solution for crushed bones that cannot re-knit themselves – highways strengthened but at the same time resilient that last 100 times longer and have almost no extra weight – wind turbines that can generate massive amounts of power in a breath of air. Question: how is the polymer dissolved after the alloy is applied? Liquid molecules are rather large.
Molecules of the same compound are on average the same size. Their size differs only in expantion and contraction due to different internal energy levels between them.
i'm going to go out on a limb and say that building a spaceship out of extremely porous material ( as pictured above) is a bad thing for the astronauts inside it.
Humm... Putting nickle in place of bones just sounds risky. Maybe its safer than mercury, but not by much.
Uhm... maybe I'm missing something, but if this is a lattice of metal tubes... How would this qualify as the worlds lightest solid (or material).
I blow a massive soap bubble and it's as much a "solid" as this thing, and probably far less dense, higher % "air".
Not to say this thing isn't cool with all sorts of possible uses. Just that the terminology doesn't seem... accurate.
One of the drawbacks of writing for a (largely) uneducated public is that the author hast to simplify (small words, lots of pictures,) and things get lost in translation.
Nothing is solid on a microscopic level anyhow - this substance takes that same principle and magnifies it, so while it may not be "solid" per se, it does behave like one and can (theoretically) be applied as such.
the soap bubble is a fluid not a solid.
"Aaaa-hhhh – – CHOO!!!
Hey, where'd that thing go?..."
Fantastic! Positively unimaginable positive possibilities for the future in just about every industry.
Never make a car body, though. We need the mass – You could get hit by a rolling tumbleweed and get knocked off the road... ... that's bad, m-kay?
Huh... I've never seen anyone get knocked over by a tumble weed. You are inside the car. The weight of the tires, engine, tranny, etc would not change
Still wouldn't want to be in one in a gale force wind.
Real human powered flight in a conventional size (not 100ft wingspan) will require this light a material. How do the birds do it? Exactly.
I'm anxious to understand why human-powered flight is something that is either wanted or needed for anything other than an oddity or an arbitrary goal? Maybe what we need is a see-through olive or a self-winding laptop.
Human-powered locomotion is the most efficient form of transportation. The advantages of that would transfer over to human-powered flight as well and would likely be more conveniant and efficient that cycling. You could fly in a sttraight line to your destination rather than having to follow roads and/or paths. You could also fly with even less energy input by taking advantage of thermals, the same as birds do.
Unfortunately, I doubt this will ever be practical since the basic physiology of the human body is ill-suited for flight. We simply cannot output very much energy per pound for easy flight. We'd all have to be world-class athletes with incredible endurance for any kind of extended flight, even if the aircraft we were using were nearly weightless.
RK: It would be cool, but I don't know about convenient. I don't know if you've ever flown an airplane or not, but it's not exactly easier than driving a car, you know. Especially if you had a lot of people doing it. If there's only a handful, then it wouldn't be that bad, but traffic control would be a nightmare if there were a significant amount of people flying at the low altitudes where human-powered flight would be even remotely feasible. You'd need radios, anti-collisions lights, control surfaces, etc. Not to mention, if you wanted to fly at night and/or in the fog, you'd need navigation radios and instruments. You also wouldn't be able to fly in any sort of icing condition (even most existing general aviation craft can't do that.) Currently, we use altitude to keep aircraft away from each other and all aircraft generally stay well above the altitudes where human-powered flight would be feasible except when landing or taking off.
why don't you wish real hard to have wings and hopefully a couple thousand years our ancestors will have wings. isn't evolution grand?
Because fun exists.
Birds do it because their chest muscles are huge in comparison to any other muscle on them. Imagine if each of your pectoral muscles was 10 times the size of your thigh muscles! AND their bones are hollow. That's why we need the 100' wingspan and bicycle power!
i have no plans to pedal across the Atlantic.
If you want to see something "lighter" check out Palin, Perry & Bachman !
They don't count. The lattice is at room temperature, the people you mentioned are totally full of hot air.
I'll second that HA!
This article is for science comments only, not politics. Leave the politics out.
Funny, based on the headline I thought the article was about the typical liber democrats brain.....
Ehh...why do people who post in these articles trying to work in current events/people/places/etc. as a joke think they're witty or funny?
Not everyone is a genius or comedian and most of you prove it all the time. Noobs GTFO.
You lost any and all credibility when you used the phrase "noobs gtfu." Good try though!
Yes, and I am not particularly impressed either. I think duct tape can work for anything, and you can get it at Walmart. The mythbusters proved it.
UMADBRO? Politics pwns but cool story bro kthxbi
It's Obama's fault...
caught me off guard, laughed out loud on that one.
But Bush ruined it earlier so Obama is not responsible – for ANY thing he does.
Methinks you project too much.
In that our Republican friends are NEVER responsible for anything. How 'bout wars of volition? What's worse than that?
"Mission Accomplished"? How's that for arrogance? C'mon now (Fonz) you can admit you were wrong. Very often.
Bushy caused a problem, Obama made it MUCH worse. As for wars the hypocrats are so quick to push all the blame on the GOP for, the Democrats have approved of TWICE the number in the past decade.
Afghanistan (NOT Bush's fault, it was 9/11's fault): GOP approved almost unanimously, and the Democrats approved almost unanimously
Iraq (Yes, it was the Bush administration's fault): GOP approved almost unanimously, and the Democrats APPROVED with a majority saying YES (including John Kerry, BTW)
Libya: GOP said no, but the Democrats (as in Obama without asking congress) sent aid anyways
Uganda: GOP said no, but Obama sent in troops.
If it was due to 9/11 why didn't we go to war with Saudi Arabia? Most of the terrorists were from there.
This article is for science comments, not politics. Leave the politics out.
This article is for science comments, not stupid politics. Leave the politics out.
now make something strong/durable of this – something that can withstand the weight of say – a decent sized rollergirl – and you've got the makings of a great skate plate – watch out Suregrip!
Nice! Now that's a practical application I can get behind (and then grab ahold of and whip around)! Imagine Bonnie Thunders on those plates...
Wow. Forty years ago we landed a man on the moon–and now this!
Don't knock it. It may be this that allows cars to become fully electric and ultra light weight, both in body and battery weight. That would massively change our international relations, with no reliance on oil from outside any more, and fundamentally change our budgets to military and energy. Also, imagine flights only costing 1/4 what they do now. This could become the "new steel" and be a major US export as well.
It can't become the "new" or "steel" because it is so lightweight. Sure we can manufacture key components in vehicles and planes, but we still need the mass. One gust of wind against the car and you're rolling off the road. Same with planes when it comes to updrafts and pressure systems, the plane would go out of control in just MILD conditions.
Now if someone would just give us the formula for transparent aluminum...
LOVE it! I tought the same thing!
are you thinking Wonder Womans plane too ?
It saddens me to have to explain the Star Trek reference.....just google transparent aluminum.
Al2O3. Been known for a long time.
If there were a "Like" button, I'd click it.
Toss me in the Liked category.
it's not the worlds "lightest".. it's the world's least dense!
If there were a "Dislike" button, I'd click it.
man this article has a lot of funny posts.
Exactly. "Least dense." Having least mass PER UNIT VOLUME.
These researchers are scientists, no? Absolutely should know that volume relates to mass, and you want to factor that OUT.
Saying "lightest material" implies saying "I'm kinda ignorant, or just pandering to the masses."
Nonsense. The phrase is fine. Density = mass/volume. However, the word "material" does not specify a volume – hence for any given volume, the material has less mass and is therefore lighter.
Reminds me of that old joke: What's the lightest thing in the world? Answer: A guy's you-know-what..because even an erotic thought can lift it...
Cool. Where can I buy some?
Most any guy has one.
99.99% air. Sounds like OWS is in the mix somewhere.
Derp her her derp derp derp!
I wish the cops would hurry up and beat/gas those commie loosers back to the slums they came from. First amendment or not we have to defend this nation.
Defend a nation that you think should be able to allow its police to beat its citizens just because you disagree with them? You hate socialism ( in your limited understanding of socialism) and then cry for authoritarian measures to deal with these people. you are severely warped.
It also has nothing to do with the article, but I had to comment on such a ridiculous statement.
Working in conjunction with University of California, Davis they invented a cop that is dumber than stone and a chancellor that is meaner than Stalin. Any chance you can invent Administrators, Business Leaders, and Executives who can act like Human Beings? I know! Ha! Ha! Fool! Dreamer! What WAS I thinking?!
I must have missed that part.... What does your statement have to do with this newly found material?
If the teachers at UCD had their jobs, these kids wouldn't be stupid enough to fall for OWS nonsense.