On 6 October, Boeing announced its development of a new metal named Microlattice, a material composed of 99.99% air, making it over a hundred times lighter than Styrofoam. Microlattice is a 3D open-cellular polymer structure which, according to Boeing, was modelled on that of bones – lightweight yet able to withstand large forces without breaking. While the outer layer remains rigid, the inside is composed of interconnected hollow tubes, each with walls nearing 100 nm thick, around a thousand times thinner than a human hair.
This unique structure results in Microlattice being an excellent energy absorber, through controlled compression. In fact Sofia Yang, Research Scientist of Architected Materials at HRL Labs (co-workers with Boeing), claims that an egg surrounded by Microlattice, when dropped from a 25- storey building, would survive without any damage – an image hard to imagine.
Naturally, Boeing aims to utilise the Microlattice structure in aeronautical engineering. Replacing some more weighty components would ultimately result in lighter, and more energy efficient, aircraft. Although this breakthrough yields a significant achievement, bear in mind that it was only two years previously that aerogel surfaced as the ‘lightest material ever’, so keep an eye out, as soon, we may indeed have an even lighter material on the horizon.