You can now 3D print the world's lightest material - graphene aerogel
It’s 7.5 times lighter than air, and a cubic metre of the stuff weighs just 160 grams. It’s 12 percent lighter than the second lightest material in the world -aerographite - and you can balance a few cubic centimetres of the stuff on a dandelion head. Water is about 1,000 times as dense.
Yep, graphene aerogel is about as cool as it gets. And while silica aerogel (pictured above) is the most commonly used and studied type of aerogel, as of 2013, graphene aerogel has held the record of being the lightest material on Earth. And producing it is about to get a whole lot easier, because scientists have just figured out how to 3D print it.
Nicknamed ‘frozen smoke’, aerogel looks like a gas - and certainly has the weight and density of a gas - but is actually a solid, and an incredibly flexible, conductive, compressible, and absorbent one at that.
Its strange and entirely unique properties have scientists exploring its potential in everything from invisibility cloaks to environmental clean-up - just 1 gram of aerogel can absorb up to 900 times its own weight in materials such as oil - so a cheap, efficient way of producing it is key to accelerating the process.
Now, scientists from the State University of New York and Kansas State University describe how they’ve managed to produce it using a 3D printing technique that ensures that the whole process is automated, and every piece comes out uniform and perfect.