Scientist Creates the World’s Lightest Substance
Recently, we brought you the story behind the discovery of graphene – and the remarkable properties that this material boasts.
To refresh your memory, it’s the thinnest material ever created (one atom thick), yet is also the strongest known material. One hundred times stronger than steel, in fact.
It’s light, yet harder than diamond and flexible like rubber. And it’s an excellent conductor of heat and electricity.
Scientists are still researching how to use graphene in everyday products and applications – and a Chinese engineer is using the material to create something truly unique…
Carbon Aerogel: Another Miracle Material?
At Zhejiang University’s Department of Polymer Science and Engineering, Professor Gao Chao is combining graphene with carbon nanotubes to form the lightest substance ever created.
It’s called carbon aerogel and is just one-sixth the density of air. Chao explains how it works: “First, we use graphene to build many spaces, which look like a beehive and can expand. In the meantime, we use carbon nanotubes to support it – like an iron pillar holding up a wall – making it strong. In this way, this material can be made super light. Also, it has a great flexibility.”
And that’s the key. Carbon aerogel’s flexibility means it can be used in a range of applications and become a transformative product.
For example, the fact that it can absorb up to 900 times its own body weight makes it a potentially groundbreaking material for cleaning large oil spills. It can also be used to clean up other environmental pollution and in water treatment.
In addition, Chao says carbon aerogel could boost energy efficiency, as it could store energy and insulate heat.
And because it’s able to conduct electricity, other potential applications are endless.
As Chao’s research continues, he says the main challenge now is finding a way to produce the material on a mass industrial scale.