New ultra lightweight metal lattice eyed for tech advancements

By on November 18, 2011, 2:30 PM

A new ultra lightweight material could impact the future of technology in a large way. Best described as a lattice of hollow metal nickel tubes, the material is nearly as light as air and is able to rebound after being compressed.

The material was created by researchers at HRL Laboratories and Composites Center at the University of Southern California and is said to be the lowest-density material. Its volume is measured at 99.99 percent air and its density is 0.9 milligram per cubic centimeter. For comparison, its density is one-thousandth that of water. The interconnected tubes have a wall thickness that’s 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Researchers believe the material could be used in multiple different applications. When compressed, the hollow tubes buckle under the weight but once the pressure is removed, the tubes rebound to 98 percent of their original height. Such properties could be useful for sound, vibration and shock absorption.

Other possible uses could include, but not limited to: improving lithium-ion battery capacity and lowering manufacturing costs, cooling devices for computer components and lightweight construction material for vehicles, aircraft and spacecraft.

CNET outlines how the lattice is constructed through multiple steps. Lasers beam ultraviolet light into a reservoir filled with a special resin that creates polymer fibers when the laser makes contact. The fibers follow the path of the light and as such, researchers were able to use multiple lasers to create interconnected fibers. The remaining resin is washed away and the structure is coated in a thin layer of nickel. The polymer fibers are then dissolved, leaving only the hollow nickel tubing.

The project was conducted for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the group that recently sourced IBM to develop a cognitive computer chip that mimics the human brain .

User Comments: 14

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chaboi390 said:

build a car out of this and you'll got yourself a flying automoblie !

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

Would make great heatsinks... and maybe ultra light-weight sunglasses.

dotVezz said:

I want this, just so I can hold it (and squish it, because apparently it bounces right back).

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

That is some mind-boggling technology. The potential applications are absolutely endless.

treetops treetops said:

Would make a nice mattress ^^.

Guest said:

actually this is prety much usseless...

the company that made this will end up as a patent troll, the technology is going to stand still in time because everybody will be ban by a court so... why waste our time...

herpaderp said:

It was developed for DARPA you tit. Chances are, if it works as advertised and isn't prohibitively expensive to make, it'll end up in some military application at first, hopefully followed by civilian applications.

Guest said:


"It was developed for DARPA you tit"

what? it's developed by the others on the island?

oh, wait. that was DHARMA.

silly me.


Mindwraith said:

so many uses for this. but ill settle for a super comfortable pillow

Guest said:

Sponge for my dishes; hope I will not eat to much metal ...

spydercanopus spydercanopus said:

Guest said:

Sponge for my dishes; hope I will not eat to much metal ...

It's fate will be in the hands of crackheads because it wastes less crack-cocaine than Brillo pad.

TJGeezer said:

How is this really much different from any other honeycomb technique? Also, what's so special about using nickel for it?

Granted, it uses polymers and (oooh!) lasers. But seriously, folks, isn't it really just a thin-walled honeycomb material? I'm missing something here.

Emexrulsier said:

You're missing that's its super light weight and for its structures returns to original form better then other composites.

My vote is for a sound proof light weight self erecting tent.

TJGeezer said:

Thanks, @Emexrulsier - you're right, I did miss some of those implications. Since it's nickel, super light weight tracks to the extremely thin walls, so the need for laser precision also makes sense. Does the elasticity come from the super-thin walls, then? Regular honeycomb materials take a *lot* pressure to deform. I wonder how this thin-wall honeycomb compares.

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