Check out the most amazing materials of the future! This top 10 list of the strangest and coolest materials shows that science is getting very futuristic nowadays!
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Aerogel holds 15 entries in the Guinness Book of Records for material properties, more than any other material. It is the world’s least dense solid. Sometimes called “frozen smoke”, aerogel is made by the supercritical drying of liquid gels of alumina, chromia, tin oxide, or carbon. It’s 99.8% empty space, which makes it look semi-transparent. Aerogel is also a fantastic insulator. If you had a shield of aerogel, you could easily defend yourself from a flamethrower. It stops cold and it stops heat. You could even build a warm dome on the Moon. Aerogels have unbelievable surface area in their internal fractal structures. Cubes of aerogel with just an inch on one side may have an internal surface area equivalent to a football field. Aerogel is currently being used as an insulation product, thickening product in cosmetics, laser targets, blankets, in space suits, military armor, and in particle physics, just to name a few.
Fun fact: NASA used an aerogel to trap space dust particles aboard the Stardust spacecraft. The particles vaporize on impact with solids and pass through gases, but can be trapped in aerogels.
And to think that Aerogel was created from a bet!
12. Carbon nanotubes
Carbon nanotubes are long chains of carbon held together by the strongest bond in all chemistry, the sacred sp2 bond, even stronger than the sp3 bonds that hold diamonds together! Carbon nanotubes have numerous remarkable physical properties, including ballistic electron transport, which makes them ideal for electronics, and so much tensile strength that they are the only substance that could be used to build a space elevator. Yup! Just like the one that Google is trying to build!! Nanotubes could be used to build a pipe that transports materials and maybe even humans to the International Space Station or the moon! The specific strength of carbon nanotubes is 48,000 kilonewtons per kg. The previous record holder for structural strength was high-carbon steel, with a measly 154 kilonewtons per kg. That’s 300 times stronger than steel. You could build towers hundreds of kilometers high with it. Or the world’s strongest, and tiniest straw. Your pick.
“Metamaterial” refers to any material that gains its properties from structure rather than composition. Metamaterials have been used to create microwave invisibility cloaks, 2D invisibility cloaks, and materials with other unusual optical properties. Mother-of-pearl gets its rainbow color from metamaterials of biological origin. Some metamaterials have a negative refractive index, an optical property that may be used to create “Superlenses” which resolve features smaller than the wavelength of light used to image them! This technology is called subwavelength imaging. Metamaterials would be used in phased array optics, a technology that could render perfect holograms on a 2D display. These holograms would be so perfect that you could be standing 6 inches from the screen and not even notice it’s a hologram.
10. Aluminum Bubble Wrap
Imagine your favorite packing-based stress reliever, except made of metal. OK, metallic bubble wrap might not be quite as easy to pop, but it could be a heck of a lot more useful. A team of engineers from North Carolina State University have developed a new form of aluminum bubble wrap, which they claim could revolutionize packaging and protective equipment.
The scientists take a thin sheet of aluminum, then use a studded roller to form small indents in the sheet. Unlike its polyethylene counterpart, these voids are then filled with a foamed material like calcium carbonate, before being sealed with another flat sheet of metal. The result is a series of bubbles that absorb masses of energy, weighs 30 percent less than regular sheet metal, and yet are nearly 50 times stronger. It's easy to make, not too expensive, and could soon be used in everything from shipping containers for fragile goods to bike helmets. Just don't be tempted to try and pop it.
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