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Boeing has unveiled a new synthetic metal called the microlattice, a material that’s being hailed as the lightest metal ever made.

Microlattice is a nickel-phosphorus alloy coated onto an open polymer structure. The polymer when removed, leaves a structure consisting of 100 nanometer thick walls of nickel-phosphorus, thus being 99.99% air.

While the structure of microlattice is strong, it is so light that it can be balanced on top of a dandelion. It is about 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and could well be the key component in the future of aeronautical design.

Microlattice’s design is influenced by the human bone structure. It has a 3D open-cellular polymer structure consisting of interconnected hollow tubes, each tube with a wall about 1000 times lighter than human hair.

This arrangement makes the metal extremely light and very hard to crush. Additionally, microlattice’s ultra-low density gives it a unique mechanical behavior, in that it can recover completely from compressions exceeding 50% strain and absorb high amounts of energy.

Sophia Yang, Research Scientist of Architected Materials at HRL Labs who worked with Boeing on the project stated: “One of the main applications that we’ve been looking into is structural components in aerospace.”

Although direct applications for microlattice have not been settled yet, Boeing is looking to use it in structural reinforcement for airplanes – which could reduce the weight of the aircraft significantly and improve fuel efficiency.

Video and image courtesy of Boeing

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Henry Sapiecha

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