‘Solid Smoke’ Aerogel Stronger Than Ever

By Amir Khan on August 21, 2012 10:01 AM EDT

Aerogel
A 2.5 kg brick is supported on top of a piece of aerogel weighing only 2 grams. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Aerogel, a super-light material known as "solid smoke" has gotten stronger, and recent improvements means the material could lead to new, insulated clothing, improved spacecraft heat shields and high-efficiency insulation, according to new research, presented at the 244th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.

Traditionally, aerogel is made from silica and is very brittle. However, by altering the composition of it, researchers were able to create a super-strong aerogel that is hundreds of times more resilient than traditional aerogel.

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The material is still made out of silica, but is reinforced with plastic polymers, which add a great deal of strength without adding much weight.

"The new aerogels are up to 500 times stronger than their silica counterparts," Mary Ann Meador, a researcher with NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio, told BBC News. "A thick piece actually can support the weight of a car. And they can be produced in a thin form, a film so flexible that a wide variety of commercial and industrial uses are possible."

Researchers said the new material could be used to create a new breed of insulated clothing that keep you warm without adding the bulk that traditional thermal clothing does. Tents and sleeping bags made out of aerogel could have the same advantage.

The researchers also said aerogel could be used in refrigerators and freezers to increase storage space and in buildings as a new and thinner insulator.

In addition, NASA officials said the aerogel could be used as an advanced reentry system for spacecraft returning to Earth from the International Space Station, protecting it from the extreme heat the craft experiences.  

And while it may be a promising new material for spacesuits, researchers said it would not be suitable for firefighters, which require heat protection beyond the 575 degrees Fahrenheit the aerogel and give.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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