Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Aerogel - The most amazing material on Earth

What is Aerogel?

Aerogel is a low-density solid-state material derived from gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with gas. The result is an extremely low density solid with several remarkable properties, most notably its effectiveness as an insulator. It is nicknamed frozen smoke, solid smoke or blue smoke due to its semi-transparent nature and the way light scatters in the material. Aerogel is said to feel like Styrofoam to the touch.

What is so amazing about Aerogel?

The most amazing thing about Aerogel are it's properties. Aerogels are remarkable thermal insulators because they almost nullify three methods of heat transfer (convection, conduction and radiation).

Amazingly, aerogels are 99% air, yet it's solid. The lightest aerogels have a density only about three times that of air. A block the size of a person weighs less than one pound, and looks like it would blow away in a slight breeze. Yet it is able to support the weight of a subcompact car.

Aerogel hand

Aerogel in hand

Aerogel flame

A layer of Aerogel protects some crayons from the flame

Aerogel flame

The flower doesn't burn, because it's over Aerogel

Aerogel brick

A small block of Aerogel supports a brick

Aerogel finds it's use in a lot of fields. Its high surface area leads to many applications, such as a chemical absorber for cleaning up spills. Aerogel particles are also used as thickening agents in some paints and cosmetics. The most important use of Aerogel is perhaps in space science. NASA used aerogel to trap space dust particles aboard the Stardust spacecraft. The particles vaporize on impact with solids and pass through gases, but can be trapped in aerogels. NASA also used aerogel for thermal insulation of the Mars Rover and space suits.

In future Aerogel will be used in even more ways. Transparent silica aerogel would be very suitable as a thermal insulation material for windows, significantly limiting thermal losses of buildings. 

Watch the video on Aerogel at YouTube

Read more about Aerogels
Aerogel homepage
Aerogel on wikipedia
Aerogel FAQ


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