Scientists Unveil Lightest Material on Earth

Dennis Faas's picture

California-based researchers have unveiled what they claim is the lightest material ever produced. In fact, it's so lightweight that photos of the material show a piece of it balanced delicately on the top of a puffy dandelion without a single seed being damaged or removed.

The material was revealed by a research team made up of scientists from University of California Irvine, HRL Laboratories and Caltech, working under the U.S. Department of Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

In the recently published November issue of Science (magazine), they boldly assert it is the lightest material on Earth.

Material Consists Almost Entirely of Air

"It's sort of like a feather -- it floats down, and its terminal velocity depends on the density," said Bill Carter, manager of the architected materials group at HRL Laboratories.

"It takes more than 10 seconds, for instance, for the lightest material we've made to fall if you drop it from shoulder height." (Source:

The scientists call the material "ultralight metallic micro-lattice," and say it consists primarily of air -- in fact, 99.99 per cent!

"The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair," said lead scientist, Tobias Shandler of HRL Laboratories. To be precise, the nickel-phosphorus tubes' thickness is just 100 nanometers.

Lightweight Material All About Architecture

The key to designing such a lightweight material is not in the materials you use, but in how you structure their architecture.

Experts have likened the material's intricate latticework to that of Paris' Eiffel Tower or San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge -- except, this one is constructed on a tiny micro scale.

It's not yet clear what specific uses there will be for the ultra-lattice material, but scientists speculate that it could almost definitely find application in a number of different industries.

It's believed that the aerospace industry will be interested in this technology, along with companies that produce batteries for various purposes.

However, the one industry most often mentioned in association with the new material is acoustic dampening, which could use the extremely lightweight material to block noise with much more effectiveness and efficiency than is now possible with previously existing materials. (Source:

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