More than 14,000 scientists attended the 244th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in August, and many discovered a new insulating material so lightweight it has been called “solid smoke” and so strong that a thick piece can support the weight of an automobile. The flexible aerogel, the world’s lightest solid material and best solid insulating material, is being developed in “film so flexible that a wide variety of commercial and industrial uses are possible,” says Mary Ann B. Meador, Ph.D., from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Glen Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio.
Traditional aerogels made from silica are brittle and breakable. Scientists used two techniques to make them stronger: a polymer to reinforce the networks of silica to make aerogels from polyimide, and inserted brace-like cross links to add further strength. Among the potential applications for the new aerogels: ultralight insulated clothing and sleeping bags, thinner refrigerator and freezer walls to allow storage of more food, insulation that is five to 10 times more efficient than existing options and heat shields on spacecraft. For more information, visit NASA’s aerogels website.