A metal that consists of 99.99 percent of air? While it might sound like science fiction, the microlattice, being used by Boeing, is being called the lightest material ever produced.
Developed in 2011 by a research team at HRL Laboratories – owned in part by Boeing – the microlattice is being designed as a structural component for aerospace engineering.
Similar to human bones, the material is light, but displays great strength. Despite being rigid on the outside, bones are hollow internally, meaning they are not crushed easily and yet are not heavy, either.
The microlattice “could help Boeing to save a lot of weight, make the airplanes more fuel efficient,” said Sophia Yang, a research scientist with HRL Laboratories, in a video released by Boeing.
To explain how the ultra-light material would function, Yang used the common example of the “egg drop” often seen in school science classes in which an egg plummets down to the ground from the top of the building.
“They need to drop an egg from 25 stories and protect that egg, they probably would wrap that egg in many many layers of bubble wrap and hope for the best,” Yang said. “What we can do is back-design the microlattice to absorb the force that the egg feels so instead of having an egg that is wrapped in three feet of bubble wrap, now you have a much smaller package that your egg can sit in.”
Yang added that she is interested to see how Boeing eventually applies the material.
“It’s really exciting to be able to work with things that we can make that can eventually go into a real product that a lot of users can interact with,” she said.