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Question Your World: Which New Material Was Just Invented?

Microlattice

From caves and mammoth skin tents to our asphalt-paved plastic and steel world, our relationships to materials have greatly impacted the way we live. Every now and then a new material is produced that changed the world. Since we build upon the knowledge of the past there is no doubt that a new material will eventually replace an existing one. So, which new material was just invented? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

One of humanity’s defining traits is that we use materials in the natural world to create new ways of making our life a little easier. Bones, marble, clay, wood, stone, and many others were among the first materials that ushered in humanity's time of innovation on Earth. More recently, materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, plastic, and silicon have been among the world that surrounds us everywhere. The use of more efficient materials will continue as long as we continue to make our lives easier. A new material being worked on by the scientists at Boeing could very well be among the roster of materials that future generations may regularly be using.

Microlattice is a bold new material that uses inspiration from something ancient combined with the most cutting edge material science technologies available today. This is a super light weight metal partly inspired by bones. Bones are rigid on the outside and have hollow insides. This lightweight and durable design that nature provided was used as inspiration for this new material. Microlattice is comprised of very thin nickel tubes, nearly 1,000 times thinner than human hair, making the overall structure 99.99% air. Three cheers for 3D printing are in order here, folks!

Don’t let the lightweight design fool you though. This structure has the ability to take a lot of pressure, experience high temperatures, and still retain its incredible light weight. All these properties make it a perfect candidate for aerospace research. If flying machines could have components made out of microlattice it could vastly reduce the weight of the vehicle and simultaneously make it more fuel efficient. These changes would have impacts on everything from the planes that transport a planet's worth of travelers to more efficient satellites and spacecraft.

Perhaps other designs such as bridges, rail systems, and even shoes would benefit from the microlattice addition. This light weight and durable design is something that has many applications to the world we live in, but could not have been created without the knowledge of the things that precede its invention. Microlattice itself could go on to inspire a myriad of other inventions that as of now seem totally unimaginable. That’s best part of scientific discovery though, a small part of the unknown gets answered while a whole new landscape of unknown gets created.

For now microlattice is still in factory testing mode, but flight companies have already started to seek out solutions like this to address existing opportunities to make things work a little better. Light weight and extremely durable, microlattice is a pretty awesome new material. Also, it's very similar to heavy metal, impressive but lacking a lot of substance. Just kidding of course, Master of Puppets still totally rules!