Boeing showcases world’s lightest material, which is 99.99pc air

14 Oct 2015

The world's lightest material. Image via Dan Little/HRL Laboratories

Hoping to spur a revolution in aircraft design, Boeing has released footage of what it describes as the world’s lightest material, which is practically 99.99pc air in density.

There are few visual confirmations of the world’s lightest material better than putting something on top of a dandelion and watching as it barely registers, which is exactly what Boeing has done.

Showing a video of its creation online, the material is comprised of a microlattice design made from a 3D open-cellular polymer structure.

Looking in more detail, it is comprised of a series of small, hollow metallic tubes appearing in a criss-cross diagonal pattern.

In each of these metallic tubes is a wall with a thickness of just 100 nanometres, or the equivalent of 1,000th the width of a human hair.

The fact that it is incredibly light does not mean that it is equally weak, however, as the microlattice structure is so strong that it could survive a 25-storey drop.

According to the HRL research group that helped develop the material, it was originally developed back in 2011 for the US military research division DARPA, with the intention of improving the ride of military vehicles.

But now with the addition of the HRL research group, its applications have been expanded to include potential aerospace properties and it is working with NASA as part of the Game Changing Development Programme.

With this new material, the weight of a spacecraft could be reduced by as much as 40pc, which is crucial for lowering the cost and distance of deep space missions.

Its strength is also crucial to its ability to sustain a spacecraft on long missions as it is capable of a complete recovery from compression exceeding 50pc strain and extraordinarily high energy absorption.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic