The world has a new lightest material: graphene aerogel

Credit: Zhejiang University

First there was aerogel. Developed in 1931, "frozen smoke" held the title for world's lightest material for more than eighty years. And at 96 percent air, its easy to see why.

Last year aerographite jumped into the number one spot. At six times lighter than air, one cubic centimeter of the stuff weighs just 0.2 milligram. Aerographite was heralded with much fanfare when its discovery was first documented, but its reign was to be a short one.

This month, a team of scientists at China's Zhejiang University went after — and broke — the lightness record set by aerographite. Their discovery is a spongy substance made from freeze-dried carbon. They've dubbed it graphene aerogel, and it weighs in at a tiny 0.16 milligram per cubic centimeter. That's only twice as dense as hydrogen.

While the lightest material ever thing is what put graphene aerogel in the news, it's the spongy nature of the stuff that has the team from Zhejiang University most excited. They're imagining any number of uses for their creation, but chief among them oil spill cleanup. Not only would the graphene aerogel absorb an astounding 900 times its own weight in oil and water, but the absorbed oil, water, and the graphene aerogel itself would be able to be reused after the cleanup effort. The team is currently hard at work developing other wonderful uses for the substance which revolve around this absorbency and elasticity.

Zhejiang University via Inhabitat

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