A few years ago, researchers created the world’s lightest metal for Boeing, and now the airline has shown it off for the first time in this new video.
Called microlattice, the material is 100 times lighter than styrofoam but is as rigid as metal, which means that it has some pretty exciting applications – not limited to being able to balance on top of a dandelion.
Microlattice was inspired by the structure of our bones, which are very rigid on the outside but mostly hollow on the inside, which means they can’t be easily crushed, but are lightweight enough for us to carry around all day. The new Boeing metal mimics this, and despite its rigid exterior, it has a 3D open-cellular polymer structure, which means its structure is 99.99 percent air.
The lattice in the metal is made up of interconnected hollow metal tubes – constructed from nickel, in the case of the prototype. Each of these tubes has a wall thickness of just 100 nanometres, which is 1,000 times thinner than human hair.
These open cells in the structure give microlattice huge compression potential, which means it can absorb a whole lot of energy.
In the video above, Sophia Yang, a research scientist at HRL Laboratories (a joint Boeing venture), explains that the microlattice could be used in something like the egg drop challenge, to protect an egg being dropped from 25 storeys with very little material required. By comparison, you’d need to wrap an egg in around a metre (or just over three feet) of bubble wrap to keep it safe when dropped the same distance.
That means that it could help Boeing build aeroplanes that are significantly lighter – but just as tough – as today’s models. “In the future the material could help Boeing save a lot of weight make aeroplanes more fuel efficient,” Yang explains.
HRL laboratories also does research and development from General Motors, as Core77 reports, so we may see the material pop up in automobiles in the future too.