5 February 2011

nanotech aerogel

Nanomaterials are characterised by their very small size, which is typically around a millionth of a millimeter. Materials this small are built from the bottom-up, at an atomic level, as opposed to conventional top-down manufacturing.

Nanomaterials have been in use for many years. Early examples include the use of gold nanoparticles in stained glass windows to produce red colouring, and titanium dioxide, which is the white pigment in paint, toothpaste and a range of cosmetics.

This is Aerogel, developed by NASA and manufactured by JPL. It is incredibly light and 99.8% atmosphere. Like ordinary glass, it is fragile and brittle, but it is a much more efficient thermal insulator because the internal structure has vast surface area. There are not many commercial applications outside aerospace. However, in 2007 Dunlop Sports released a range of tennis rackets with an aerogel core. Its extreme lightness is used to produce a racket with high strength to weight and stiffness.

Image from NASA/JPL