The ‘frozen smoke’, the material of the future

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The airgel , a solid super light which is also called “frozen smoke ‘ , can go from being a marvel of space age to be used in everyday life thanks to the great improvements made in recent years in its components. Hundreds of times more strong , scientists believe that this material can be used in the manufacture of clothing to protect us from the cold and inclement weather, refrigerators with thinner walls than can fit in more food or as insulation for buildings , among other products. The research was presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society , held in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and involving over 14,000 scientists.

The traditional aerogels developed decades ago are made of silica, which is found in beach sand. They are brittle and break and crumble easily.Over time, scientists have improved the strength of aerogels.

“The new aerogels are up to 500 times stronger than their silica “says researcher Mary Ann B. Meador, who has filed an airgel developed by scientists at the Glenn Research Center of NASA in Cleveland, Ohio. “A thick piece can withstand the weight of a car. And can be produced with a slender, flexible film so makes possible a wide variety of commercial and industrial uses. “

An airgel jersey

These flexible aerogels could be used, for example, a new genre of super-insulating clothing to keep people warm in cold weather but with less volume than traditional thermal clothing. Tents and sleeping bags have the same advantages. Furthermore, the walls of refrigerators and freezers reduce its thickness , increasing the storage capacity. Meador ensures that the airgel is five to ten times more efficient than the existing insulation. A leaf of a quarter inch thickness provides both insulation and 3 inch fiberglass. He also believes that there may be many applications in very fine but very effective insulation for buildings, pipes, tanks, water heaters and other devices.

NASA envisions the use of this new material in an advanced re-entry spacecraft returning to Earth from the International Space Station (ISS), and perhaps in other missions. The ships needa heat shield to prevent burning due to frictional heating of the Earth’s atmosphere. These screens can be bulky and heavy, so NASA is investigating the use of a heat shield made of flexible airgel inflate like a balloon when the ship enters the atmosphere.

Meador believes the material could also be used to insulate space suits. however, is probably not suitable for garments used in extinguishing fires, which require protection beyond the limits of 575 degrees Fahrenheit airgel.

Scientists aerogels produced new strengths of two ways. One involves making changes in the internal architecture of traditional silica aerogels. They used a polymer, a plastic like material, reinforcing silica networks that extend along the airgel structure. The other involves formulapolyamide , a polymer incredibly strong and heat resistant inserted to add more strength to the structure.

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