Aerographite: The World’s Lightest Material is 99% Air

By Chelsea Whyte on July 18, 2012 2:12 AM EDT

aerographite
A small piece of Aerographite, the world's lightest material ever. It is water-repellent, jet-black and electrically conductive. (Photo: KU)

Weighing in at just 0.2 milligrams per cubic centimeter, Aerographite is a jet-black sponge made up of porous carbon tubes interwoven at the nanoscale. The least dense solid ever, it is 75 times lighter than Styrofoam.

"Our work is causing great discussions in the scientific community. Aerographite weighs [a fourth of the] world-record-holder up to now," said study co-author Matthias Mecklenburg of the Hamburg University, according to UPI.

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The substance can also be compressed, sponge-style, by a factor of 30, and it springs right back without losing integrity, and it's also highly resistant to chemical attack, hydrophobic, a terrific insulator, and opaque to X-rays, according to Popular Science. Importantly, it also conducts electricity, and may be useful for creating extremely lightweight batteries.

Aerographite's amazing properties don't stop there. Lightweight materials normally withstand compression but not tension. Aerographite can handle both. The material can support 40,000 times its own weight, reports The Huffington Post.

"Up to a certain point the Aerographite will become even more solid and therefore stronger than before," said professor Rainer Adelung of Kiel University.

"Also, the newly constructed material absorbs light rays almost completely. One could say it creates the blackest black," said Hamburg's professor Karl Schulte.

The material is made up of a mesh-like weave of carbon nanotubes that the researchers compare to ivy wrapped around a tree. Remove the tree, and the structure left over is similar to Aerographite. Crystallized zinc oxide forms the tubes around which Aerographite winds, and when exposed to hydrogen, the zinc is dissolved and the tubes of Aerographite remain.

The scientists behind the project hope to find useful applications for Aerographite in lithium-ion batteries, which are crucial for environmentally friendly modes of transportation, reports The Atlantic Wire.

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