Boeing and HRL Laboratories created a metal microlattice that has been awarded the Guinness World Record for the world’s lightest metal. The entire structure of the microlattice is 99.99 percent air, making it 100 times lighter than styrofoam. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the new metal is not its light weight, but the fact that it was created to emulate human cell structure. It’s far from a bionic metal, but it illustrates that developing technology to mimic nature can help us achieve great things.
While the weight of a material is often associated with its strength, that isn’t always the case. For many applications, the use of a lighter material can lend a number of benefits in terms of durability and flexibility, all important considerations where all sorts of structures are concerned. Like human bones, which are porous, the microlattice is incredibly strong despite being mostly air. Its spindly structure is capable of absorbing and distributing force to reduce damage. The team placed the metal microlattice atop the delicate head of a dandelion (already gone to seed) to demonstrate its ultra light weight.
Boeing’s new metal microlattice is made from nickel phosphorus and is approximately 100 times lighter than styrofoam. While the aerospace company is certainly looking forward to potential applications in commercial airplane wings, the lightweight yet durable microlattice could have other uses in vehicle engines, military protective gear, and possible even in the medical world. Because of the way the microlattice’s structure mimics porous human cells, it could someday be used to develop an artificial lung.
The microlattice is the product of several years of research and development, and initially introduced in 2011. The Guinness World Record was just awarded last year, after a long application and review process.
Images via Boeing