Graphene Sponges: The Lightest Material On The Planet

At this point, it would be more of a surprise if graphene wasn't an integral part of a mind-bending, record-setting new technology. But, of course, it is. Again. Enter the lightest material in the world: graphene aerogel.

Aerogel is nothing new. All made primarily of air, different flavours of aerogel have been one-upping each other for the title of lightest for years now. The previous record holder was aerographite with a density of 0.18mg/cm3, and now researchers at China's Zhejiang University have made some aerographene, which takes the crown with a density of 0.16mg/cm3.

Building chunks of the almost-but-not-quite weightless material involves some high-tech freeze-drying that can yield graphene sponges of arbitrary size. Professor Gao Chao, the research team's leader, says the process can easily be scaled up to an order of metres. And aside from being less dense than helium — an acheivement in and of itself — aerographene is extremely resilient and can mop up 900 times its weight in oil, making it potentially indispensable as a clean-up sponge.

The sponges may not be as immediately useful as say, terabit-down graphene antennas, but if/when there's another awful oil-spill, aerographene will be worth far more than its weight in awesomeness. Tack it on to the ever-growing list of graphene craziness. Some sort of graphene immortality can't be that far off, right? [Zhejiang University via Gizmag]

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    It may be less dense that helium (room temperature, 1 atmosphere of pressure) but it's still about 3 times heavier than helium, what with the much higher atomic weight of carbon and all. Still, aerogels are a pretty cool invention.

      Well I'm confused. density is measured in mass/volume. If something has a different density than another object, it much be lighter per unit volume. Density isn't a measure of atomic weight.


        You're absolutely right, that was a complete derp post from me. I took the measurement to be atomic density of the carbon latticework somehow, not the simple density by volume. Physics is my thing too so that's inexcusable! But I'll leave it there unedited =)

        It doesn't fly because the indicated density of the structure is its carbon atom density only. It's the density the material would have if it existed in a complete vacuum. In a normal environment it's filled with air instead, so at any given time it would weigh the same as air, plus the atomic weight difference between carbon and air for the portion that is carbon. Based on the '900 times its weight' figure for oil, you're probably looking at the carbon lattice of the material taking up a thousandth the space of the air that fills it.

          My cats breath smells like cat food.

          So the value given for it's density is pretty much a lie.

          thanks for the clarification, I pondered on this yesterday and came to the same conclusion, I just couldn't articulate it as well as you did.

    is it lighter than the same volume of air that ti displaces?

      The material is less dense than helium, however it is porous and not isolated from the surrounding air. If you were to create and airtight surface layer around it and extract all of the gas permeating the aerogel, provided the structure didn't collapse, you would effectively have a 'vacuum balloon'.

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