How do you build the world’s lightest metal? Make it mainly from air, according to scientists.
The material, known as a “microlattice,” was developed by scientists at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, California, which is co-owned by Boeing and General Motors. The new microlattice is made up of a network of tiny hollow tubes and is roughly 100 times lighter than Styrofoam.
In an effort to save fuel, aerospace and automotive companies constantly strive to make their materials as lightweight as possible without sacrificing structural integrity. The process used to build the new microlattices holds huge promise, the researchers say, because the materials created are not only incredibly light, but also very strong. [Humanoid Robots to Flying Cars: 10 Coolest DARPA Projects]
Boeing showcased the material in a recent video, by demonstrating how a small piece of metal microlattice could be balanced on top of a delicate dandelion seed head. “People think it must be the metal that’s the light part, so they assume we made some new alloy,” said Sophia Yang, a chemist at HRL Laboratories. “This was actually made from nickel-phosphorous, a very well-known metal, but we are able to engineer how the metal is architected in order to create a structure that can still stand by itself, yet be so light it can sit on top of a dandelion and not perturb it.”