Ultraperformance materials often start in advanced industries before they become a widespread material on the consumer market. Take for instance memory foam, popularized by Tempur-Pedic. It started out as an innovation that NASA developed as a safety additive to aircraft cushions. It was then released to the public domain in the 1980s through Fagerdala World Foams which then eventually partnered with Tempur-Pedic to create a new sleep experience. Who would have ever thought that one day people would be sleeping on this product?
This brings me to a new material developed late last year by researchers at UC- Irvine and CalTech called metallic microlattice. The sample they created was made possible by electrodepositing nickel-phosphorous alloy into a truss design. The contraption is about 100 micrometers in diameter and consists of about 99.99% air. It was also able to set a record of being one of the lowest densities of any solid coming in at 0.9 mg/cm3. Compare this with other solids: Magnesium 1.7 mg/cm3, Aluminum 2.7 mg/cm3, and gold 19.3 mg/cm3. Currently metallic microlattices are being tested for use in spring like applications due to their compressive nature.
The picture above shows just how light this material actually is. If this material could make its way into architecture imagine the possibilities. For instance it was stated that the researchers assembled it into a “truss-like design”1. This gets me to thinking its possible use for long range roof spans. At this point I am hard pressed to acknowledge its use outside the laboratory but if it were strong enough on the large scale and were able to span long distances without failure we could essentially create a revolution. Think about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where the truss design first appeared that wasn’t “clunky” and how doubtful people were to even go inside the building! This material, with how light weight it is, could possibly carry a roof load one day without the need for interior columns.
1).”Metallic microlattice ‘lightest structure ever'”. Chemistry World. the original (21 November 2011). Retrieved 28 September 2012.
2). “World’s ‘lightest material’ unveiled by US engineers”. BBC News. (2011-11-18).