Material of the Month, January 2015: Aerogel

Material of the Month, January 2015: Aerogel

Posted Last Friday by Donna Creek

This unbelievable light material consists of more than 99% air, yet it insulates better than mineral wool and is more heat resistant than aluminium.

Aerogel is a semi-transparent material that looks slightly blue in colour, this is because of Rayleigh Scattering (when light scatters off of particles smaller than wavelengths of light). Blue and violet colours have shorter wavelengths and as the human eye is most sensitive to blue light this is the more dominant colour we see.

How is Aerogel made?

This fascinating material is made by extracting liquid from a gel through a supercritical drying process (the same way you decaffeinate coffee) and replaces the liquid with a gas – resulting in a solid consistency but also very brittle. It is also possible to make colourful aerogels adding lanthanide chlorides in the composition. Colour options include light and dark pink, yellow, green and purple.

What can Aerogel used for?

NASA use Aerogel to collect stardust from space because it is highly UV resistant, most plastics on earth would disintegrate in space. NASA have also incorporated the material as an insulator in their spacesuits. This space age material offers an opportunity for a unique story within a bespoke packaging or POS application.

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Aerogel has many other unique properties, it is lightweight, extremely strong in compression (downward force), radiation resistant and because silica is a poor conductor of heat with excellent insulation it also protects from flames (see image below)

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Aerogels are now available in a variety of forms including monoliths, particles and powders, composite fiber meshes incorporating aerogel coating or particles and thin films, which brings the material into new and exciting applications, such as consumer products and clothing where it offers unprecedented thermal insulation in relation to weight and bulk.

Take a look at this video of a Hershey Kiss and a blowtorch

This video features a real scientist.

Let us know what you think of Aerogel by leaving a comment in the box below.