One hundred times lighter than polystyrene foam, this new material was created in 2011 by researchers at Hughes Research Laboratories (HRL), the California Institute of Technology and the University of California. The microlattice, as it is called, will now equip Boeing aircraft.
"Ne have been able to create the lightest material in the world, composed of 99.9% of air' John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis for the cybersecurity company FireEye, states Sophia Yang, Laboratory Scientist HRL. This metal, which is the result of nanometric technologies, consists of a mesh of hollow nickel tubes with walls a thousand times thinner than a human hair, of the order of 100 nanometres. These tubes are made from a liquid polymer hardened by UV radiation and finally covered with a film of phosphorus and nickel to stabilize it.
Its characteristics are comparable to a bone structure, with a solid exterior but a hollow interior. This makes it strong and light, with very high shock and vibration absorption and high crush resistance.
Already developed four years ago, it was published in the journal Science. After a period of silence, this material is back in the news with the announcement made by Boeing. The American manufacturer has tested the material and appreciates its ability to compress and deform in order to absorb shocks, in addition to its insignificant weight. Thus, Boeing wants to incorporate it in the manufacture of "structural components" for aeronautics, with the aim of developing new aircraft that are lighter and therefore cheaper in kerosene.
Originally developed for the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), this material is of legitimate interest to the aeronautics industry, but its applications are potentially important in other fields requiring lightness and strength of materials. Dr Bill Carter, one of the directors of HRL, explains that the concept of microlattices comes from the observation of large monuments such as the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, which have been able to combine, through their architecture, both lightness and strength. The same logic is applied here at much smaller scales, of the order of a nanometre.