This, we assure you, is a real photograph. Researchers at the University of California Irvine have developed a material that is as strong as metal yet 100 times lighter than Styrofoam. The material is constructed from a micro-lattice of nickel phosphorous tubes that is 99.9% air. The tubes are hollow and have walls 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, yet they have the strength of metal with the added benefit of being ultra resistant to strain. Researchers believe this new material could be used to make lightweight batteries that could eventually bring down the weight of green vehicles and increase their efficiency while using less material in the process.
“Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architecture,” said William Carter, manager of the architected materials group at HRL. “We are revolutionizing lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the nano and micro scales.” The structure of the new micro-lattice metal isn’t visually that far off from the latticed structure of the Eiffel Tower.
The new metal’s lattice work does more than make it lightweight, it allows the material to be extremely resiliant. In studies it has shown to completely recover from compression exceeding 50 percent strain and bounces right back after absorbing a high amount of energy. “Materials actually get stronger as the dimensions are reduced to the nanoscale,” noted the principle investigator on this project, UCI mechanical and aerospace engineer Lorenzo Valdevit. “Combine this with the possibility of tailoring the architecture of the micro-lattice and you have a unique cellular material.” If a large-scale production method was developed for this material we’ve no doubt it would revolutionize the efficiency of all kinds of energy intensive machines — most notably cars — and could reduce material needs worldwide.