Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Aerogel must be one of the strangest supermaterials to ever exist. Ghostly and shimmering in appearance, it’s insanely light, incredibly strong, and an amazing thermal insulator. And its tricks look absolutely impossible when you see them up close.

Made for Fun

Aerogel material—often referred to as frozen smoke, solid smoke, solid air or blue smoke—is actually, like all the best things, the result of a wager. It was first created by Samuel Stephens Kistler in 1931, after he bet Charles Learned that he could replace the liquid in a jelly with gas, without causing shrinkage. Turned out, he was right!

To produce an aerogel, you take a normal gel and then—very slowly and carefully—remove the liquid, leaving behind just the solid structure. That process varies depending on the gel in question, but invariably requires some complex chemistry to facilitate removal of the liquid bysupercritical drying, which carefully avoids the liquid-gas transition by using pressure and temperature variation to go from liquid to solid to gas instead. Otherwise, the evaporation process can destroy the structure. The result is a substance that looks like the original gel but feels like expanded polystyrene to the touch.

And the material properties! Oh, the material properties. Just look at what it can do.

Aerogel Is an Amazing Insulator

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

All the trapped air in aerogel makes it a remarkable insulator. In fact, silicon aerogel has a thermal conductivity of about 0.03 W/mK in atmospheric pressure down to 0.004 W/mK in modest vacuum—values similar to those exhibited by air itself. Hold it to a flame, and you won’t notice much happen, either—silica aerogel doesn’t melt until it reaches upwards of 2,000 °F. No, really. Look.

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Aerogel Is Insanely Light

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

It’s not all silica gel, though. Yes, graphene aerogel sounds like someone combined the twobuzziest of materials buzzwords—but the results are amazing. In fact, this graphene aerogel snatched the title of the world’s lightest material just a few of months ago—with a density lower than that of helium and just twice that of hydrogen at 0.16 mg/cm3. This stuff practically floats. (Incidentally, it’s got air inside, which means that it doesn’t.) The material was created using a new technique which involves freeze-drying solutions of carbon nanotubes and graphene to create a kind of carbon sponge. The resulting material is both strong and elastic, as well as incredibly light.

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

And It’s Surprisingly Strong, Too

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

Silica aerogel is also oddly strong. Just look at this image: it shows a 5-pound brick supported by a piece of aerogel which weighs just 0.07 ounces. That strength is a results of—brace yourself for this—its dendritic microstructure. All that means is that it’s made up of roughly spherical, nanoscale particles which are fused together in clusters. Those clusters are strung together in 3D shapes which are almost fractal, providing an endlessly complex and strong structure. It can even support the weight of a car:

Amazing Aerogel: Eight Looks at the Ghostly Supermaterial in Action

For all of these amazing properties, though, aerogel is still insanely expensive to manufacture, which is why there aren’t any consumer products made using the stuff. Yet. In the meantime, let’s just daydream of super-light, flame retardant, bullet-proof suits of armor. Not bad for a little bit of frozen smoke.



10 Amazing Man-made Substances



We all know that mankind is capable of genius. But if you scratch the surface of what we can come up with, even those of us who have already discovered chocolate-covered pretzels can be blown away. For instance, did you know that we have …

10One-Way Bulletproof Glass


The problems of the ultra-rich are different than yours or mine. Going by the market forces that gave us this entry, the ultra-rich worry about the fact that the bulletproof glass that may save their lives would also stop them from shooting back.

Enter one way ballistic glass: it stops bullets from one side only, allowing return fire. How is this wizardry achieved, you ask? By sandwiching two sheets of different plastics together — a brittle acrylic layer, and a softer, more elastic, polycarbonate layer. The acrylic forms a very hard surface under pressure. When a bullet strikes this side, the layer flattens it before shattering, dissipating its energy. It is then possible for the shock-absorbing back layer to contain the bullet (and the shards of acrylic) without breaking.

When shot from the other side however, the bullet hits the polycarbonate first, stretching it initially. This bending shatters the brittle acrylic behind, leaving no resistance once the bullet punches through, thus allowing the target to become the shooter. But don’t get too cocky — you just put a hole in your shield.

9Liquid Glass

Once upon a time, dish soap didn’t exist. In the past, pans were washed with soda, vinegar, silver sand, Vim or wire wool, but a new spray-on coating could save plenty of labor and make dish soap itself obsolete. Liquid Glass combines silicon dioxide with water or ethanol to make a spray that dries to form a layer of “flexible, super-durable glass“. The layer is invisible (500 times thinner than a human hair), non-toxic and repels liquids.

Liquid Glass would eliminate the need for scrubbing, and make most cleaning products unnecessary, because it also renders surfaces anti-bacterial. Microbes landing on the surface have a hard time staying there. Throw out your bleach and simply turn on to sterilize a kitchen sink. This means that in medical applications, a treated surface could be sterilised with only hot water, with no need for chemical disinfectants.

The coating can be used to treat plants fungal infections and to seal corks for better bottle seals. We aren’t trying to sell it here (promise!), but this stuff repels liquids, is non-toxic, flexible, anti-bacterial, breathable, durable and invisible. Oh, and its also dirt cheap. Either it’s a miracle, or the fine print is invisible, too. Time will tell.

8Amorphous Metal

Amorphous metal is a material that is allowing golf clubs to hit harder, bullets to strike with more force, engines and surgical knives to last longer. Contrary to its name, it combines the usual strength of metal with the surface hardness of glass. In the video above, two ball bearings are bounced, one on steel and one on amorphous metal. The bearing bounces much higher off the amorphous metal and keeps going for an uncomfortably long time.

The impact of the bearing actually leaves many small “pits” in the steel, meaning the steel absorbs and dissipates the energy of the impact. The amorphous metal is smooth however, meaning that all the energy of the impact is transmitted back to the bearing, causing the higher bounce.

Most metals have a crystalline atomic structure, which is very ordered and repetitive. Under impacts or other stress, planes of atoms in the metal can permanently ‘slip’ to form visible dents. Amorphous metal has a disordered, random atomic structure, meaning such slips are prevented and the atoms rebound to their initial position.


A plastic with incredible heat resistance, Starlite’s quality as a thermal insulator is actually so staggering that for a while people just assumed its inventor was deluded. Then, following the above TV spot, the British Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) got in touch. They subjected it to nuclear-flash-level bursts of heat, up to the level of 75 Hiroshimas. The sample was fine, if a little charred. One scientist remarked “Normally, we do a test every couple of hours because we have to wait for [the material] to cool down. We’re doing it every 10 minutes, and it’s sat there laughing at us.”

Unlike other high-performance insulators, Starlite produces no toxic fumes under heat and is also incredibly lightweight. The potential applications in space shuttles, firefighting suits, airliners or military use are endless, but Starlite has never left the lab. Inventor Maurice Ward died in 2011 without ever patenting or licensing his creation. All that is widely known is that it consists of “up to 21 organic polymers and copolymers, and small quantities of ceramics”.



First, imagine a porous substance of such low density that a 2.5 centimeter (1 in) cube of it could have the internal surface area of an entire football field. Next, stop taxing your imagination and accept that such a substance already exists. More a category than a specific material, Aerogel is a shape that certain substances can be molded into whose low mass makes it one of the greatest insulators we have (an Aerogel window 2.5 cm (1 in) thick has the heat-protective quality of a window that is 25 cm (10 in) thick.

All the lightest substances known to man are Aerogels. Silica Aerogel — essentially dried silicon gel — weighs only 3 times more than air. However, whilst being very brittle it can also support over 1000 times its own weight.Graphene Aerogel (pictured above) is made from carbon, and its solid component is 7 times lighter than air.

It has a spongy texture, and can be made simultaneously hydrophobic (repels water), and lipophilic (absorbs oil). For this reason it is being hyped as a method to mop up oil spills, because its massive internal surface area means it can absorb 900 times it owns weight. And its spongy texture means that once filled with oil, it can be ‘wrung out’, slung back in the water, and filled again. And you thought carbon was totally useless.



DMSO is a chemical solvent, originally a byproduct of wood pulping. It existed for almost 100 years before its medical potential was realized in the 1960s. A certain Dr Jacobs discovered that it penetrated skin quickly and deeplywithout damaging tissue. This means huge potential for carrying drugs across membranes and into the body without breaking skin, removing the danger of infection.

It has benefits of its own, reducing the inflammation associated with sprains, arthritis & burns and providing immediate pain relief that can last up to six hours. It also penetrates finger and toenails, meaning it can be used to deliver anti-fungal medications.

Unfortunately, DMSO has had its problems. When its medicinal potential was discovered, it was already commercially available as an industrial chemical. This wide availability also soured its appeal in the eyes of the drug companies — if they couldn’t patent and monopolize it, there would be no profit potential. Also, the fact that side effects include a strong case of garlic breath further reduces marketability, meaning DMSO is mostly used only within veterinary medicine.

4Carbon Nanotubes


A carbon nanotube is effectively a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon rolled into a cylinder. At a molecular level, the result looks like a roll of chicken wire and is the strongest material known to science. Six times lighter than steel and potentially hundreds of times stronger, the tubes also conduct heat more effectively than diamond and conduct electricity more effectively than copper.

Being so thin, they are naturally invisible to the naked eye, and a collection of nanotubes in their raw state looks similar to a petri dish full of soot. To be able to harness their mechanical (and electronic) properties requires the ‘spinning’ of many trillions of these invisible strings, which wasn’t possible until relatively recently.

One of the more striking potential uses is making cables for an elevator into outer space (a fairly old and, until recently, totally impractical idea, due to the impossibility of making a 100,000 kilometer (62,000 mile) lift cable that wouldn’t collapse under its own weight). They could also be used to cure cancer — thousands can fit into an individual cell, and coating them with folic acid causes them to target and bind with cancer cells. The tubes would then be heated with an infrared laser, ideally causing those cells to die. Other uses include stronger, lighter body armor, more efficient windmill blades on wind farms, and making the slickest cheese slicer you can imagine.



In 1942, the Brits had a problem. They needed aircraft carriers to help combat German U-Boats, but there was no spare steel to build any. A man called Geoffrey Pyke thought that maybe a huge floating ice island might be the answer, but this idea had been suggested (and then ridiculed and dumped) two years previously. Ice may be cheap, but it also shatters without much provocation or eventually melts.

However, a couple of New York scientists hit upon a mixture of ice and wood pulp that not only floated, but was as bullet-resistant as brick, shatterproof and didn’t melt. The material could be machined like wood, or cast into shapes like a metal. In water, an insulating shell of wet wood pulp would form, preventing further melting, and any ship made from it could theoretically be repaired whilst still at sea.

But for all its surprising qualities, Pykrete was ultimately not fit for its intended purpose. A 1,000-ton scale model was quickly built and kept frozen by a single-horsepower motor, but it was found that the ice would sag over time unless kept to a temperate of -16 degrees F, which would require a complicated system of ducts. It was also pointed out that the large amount of wood pulp required would be enough to seriously affect paper production. Pykrete ultimately remained a creative, fascinating and unworkable failure.



Concrete ages over time, taking on the sickly polluted-grey look we all know and developing fractures in the process. Repairs are time-consuming and expensive — if the foundation of a building cracks, there’s often no easy way of fixing it. Many buildings in earthquake zones have been simply torn down for this reason.

But a group of students at Newcastle University (UK) have produced a genetically modified microbe, that has been “programmed to swim down fine cracks in concrete [and produce] a mixture of calcium carbonate and bacterial glue … to ‘knit’ the building back together”.

The “programming” of the BacillaFilla spores mean they only start germinating on contact with concrete, can sense when they reach the bottom of cracks (repair isn’t activated until they do), harden to the same strength as the surrounding concrete, and have a built-in self destruct gene to stop them going rogue and producing massive concrete tumors. There are also environmental implications — 5% of all man-made carbon dioxide is from the production of concrete. It is hoped the spores will be able to prolong the life of structures that would be very costly to rebuild.


Impact protection has always been a difficult problem — how do you make something that offers real protection without becoming too heavy or inflexible?Plastic knee-pads, for example, restrict movement and can still transmit impacts to bone.

D30 offers an ingenious fix to this problem. It’s a material made of ‘intelligent molecules’ that move freely (like Play-Doh) under gentle pressure, but lock upwhen struck hard. Jackets are already on the market containing D30 pads that offer flexibility, as well as protection from the tarmac, baseball bats or fists you might accidentally walk into. The pads are low-profile, making the jackets suitable for stuntmen or even police.

The material actually works on a familiar principle, similar to the mixture of cornstarch and water you remember from elementary-school science experiments. (Some people even fill pools with the stuff.)

Diamond Armor The most expensive custom tailored suit in the world.


A bulletproof, air-conditioned, diamond-covered, $3.2 million suit? Even James Bond would drool over this. Not that it would matter; it’s also waterproof. Naturally.

Developed by Swiss company Suitart, the Diamond Armor suit comes custom-tailored to each individual (ludicrously wealthy) owner. But that’s only the beginning of this suit’s many features. For the price of a small island, you’ll get:

  • NATO-certified bulletproofing, shielding you from handgun-fired bullets ranging from .9mm pistols all the way to .57 Magnums
  • An air-conditioned suit system that pumps humidified water through the jacket at the push of a button
  • Water- and dirt-proof nanotechnology inspired by the finely textured surface of dirt-resistant plants found in nature
  • Steel, black diamond-encrusted buttons weighing in at 140 carats a piece with 600 black diamonds gracing the suit in total
  • Silk lining signed by the artist Lucian Goizueta, who won the Valoarte Art Show and whose piece “Rheinhafenkrah” graces the interior of the suit
  • Matching watch and 24-carat golden silk tie, because anything else would be tacky

The $3.2 Million Bulletproof, Diamond-Studded Suit With a Built-In A/CSEXPAND

We can’t possibly imagine a situation in which a suit like this would be practical, but then that’s not really the point of diamond, air conditioned magic suits. So if you’re obscenely wealthy with a healthy dose of paranoia, head on down to Switzerland to have yours custom-fitted today. [Diamond Armor via Damn Geeky]

$20,000 bulletproof business suit looks sharp, stops .45-caliber rounds


11/12/13 | by 

One Toronto based tailor shop specializes in bulletproof business suits that can stop .45-caliber rounds,City News reports.

At $20,000 a suit, they don’t come cheap. But if you’re an overseas businessman or woman that deals in oil or diamonds or a super secret agent, the added protection may just be worth the money.

Garrison Bespoke developed his armored suits using technology originally created for the U.S. military in Iraq. By layering sheets of carbon nanotubes underneath sharp looking business attire, this tailor’s suits don’t just turn heads, they stop bullets.


Each suit is custom made and costs around $20,000.

According to Bespoke’s website, he wants to give his unique clients an added layer of protection to make whatever dangerous occupation they take part in a little bit safer.

“We wanted to create a lightweight garment that not only looks professional, but can also act as a reliable body armor. The idea was to create a stylish and discreet alternative to wearing a bulky bulletproof vest underneath a suit. This way, our clients wouldn’t have to worry about looking awkward during meetings, and they can travel to work feeling comfortable, safe and confident.”

The nanotubes used in the suits’ construction is 50 percent lighter than Kevlar and is rated to stop up to .45-caliber rounds at close range.

If you’re looking for even more added protection, you can pick up a bullet-proof dress shirt from Miguel Caballero for around $4,000.

Opposing Views ]

Taiwanese gov’t equips military with faceless bulletproof masks


Taiwanese gov’t equips military with faceless bulletproof masks (VIDEO + 7 PHOTOS)

The Taiwanese Special Forces received some ominous looking ballistic facemasks.

The Taiwanese Special Forces along with a handful of other military units received a new batch of bulletproof armor, including a menacing looking ballistic facemask.

According to Rocket News, the masks are rated to stop rounds from a .44 magnum at close range, though the wearers may find themselves in a bit of discomfort if such an event were to occur.

An army of approaching warriors sporting these ominous looking masks is likely to strike fear into even the most hardened of criminals. That combined with the fact they are heavily armed should make the bad guys think twice about resisting.

If you find yourself pining after one of these ballistic face shields, check out

Here’s a video of the mask being tested.



No comment was made if underneath the masks lies a clone army.


Though the masks are rated up to a .44 magnum, being struck by a bullet in the face is still going to hurt.


While providing ballistic protection, the masks also strike fear into the heart of their enemies.


No comment was made on if the idea was adopted after leadership saw the Immortals from 300.


Carrying a variety of weaponry, these soldier are ready to tackle any task at hand.


Dropping off a truck load of these soldiers is going to turn the tide of any battle.

Rocket News ]