Made from aerogel, the material is less dense than air and helium, weighing only 0.16 miligrams per cubic centimeter.
Aerogel is an ultra-light material derived from a gel in which the liquid component is replaced with a gas.
According to the team´s leader, Professor Gao Chao, the most significant thing about the material is that it is easily manufactured and shows great capacity.
Like a sponge, the material can bounce back when compressed and is excellent at absorbing oil. Currently, oil absorbing products can absorb organic solvents around ten times of their weight, but the new material can absorb up to 900 times its own weight — and absorbs organic solvent only.
The abovementioned characteristics make the new material desirable for treating oil spills at sea. You can spread it around the polluted area, collect it, compress it and thus retrieve the oil. Additionally, the material is recyclable.
A related paper was published in Nature journal last February. "Carbon aerogel is expected to play an important role in pollution control such as oil spill control, water purification and even air purification," said Gao, whose research paper on the material was first published online in the academic publication Advanced Materials on Feb 18, and in the research highlights column of Nature magazine.
The world´s previous lightest material was created by HRL Laboratories, at the California Institute of Technology, and the University of California at Irvine in 2011. Made from a lattice of hollow metallic tubes, it weighs 0.9 milligram per cubic centimeter and can balance atop the petals of a flower without causing any damage.
The aerogel developed by Gao and his research team was produced using freeze-dried solutions, which removed the moisture from carbon nanotubes and graphemes but which retained their integrity, creating what is now believed to be the world´s lightest material.
"Carbon aerogel is similar to a carbon sponge in structure. When an aerogel the size of a mug is put on slender setaria grass, its blades do not bend," Gao said.
Despite its fragile appearance, carbon aerogel also has excellent elasticity and bounces back when compressed.
SOURCE: China Daily