While studying the properties of liquid in jellies and trying to replace them with gas without causing shrinkage, Samuel Stephens Kistler stumbled upon material called Aerogel as early as 1931. It is a slightly translucent, super strong and extremely light solid – it even holds Guinness record for the World lighters solid material.
Aerogel is created by extracting or drying the liquid part of the gel without causing its structure break down. Aerogels were initially created from silica gels, but Kistler also employed alumina, tin dioxide and chromia to produce them.
The material is called “solid smoke”, “frozen smoke”, “solid air” or “blue smoke”, thanks to its incredible properties. Very low weight and porous and low density structure make it potential insulator, as its thermal conductivity is low. It feels and looks like expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam).
Despite its low weight, aerogel is also extremely strong. Indeed, it is actually one of the most powerful materials in the world. It consists of 99.8% air and is 1000 times less dense than glass. This means it can support large weight and withhold high temperatures and sounds. One pound of the material is sufficient to hold half a ton of weight, and one inch thick aerogel equals to ten inch of glass window in its insulating capacity.
Besides all its unique capabilities, aerogel is also good at absorption, making it potentially useful in areas like oil spills clean-up or slow drug-delivery.
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