From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Engineers have now developed techniques to a produce materials as light as aerogel but many times stronger.
Aerogels are incredibly light, so light that the record holder, aerographene, boasts a density of just 0.16 mg/cm3. Currently, aerogels are used for insulation, tennis racquets, as a means of controlling oil spills, and were used on the NASA Stardust mission to collect samples from a comet’s tail. Unfortunately, despite its seemingly ephemeral nature, its very much a solid and will shatter if pressed hard enough, so its use is limited.
The new materials developed by the MIT/LLNL team aren’t aerogels, but are metamaterials. That is, artificial materials with properties that aren’t found in nature. The idea is to structure it, so that it has the lightness of aerogel, but is much stronger. The strength of the new materials comes from their geometric structure, not their chemical composition.
The technique used to make these materials is a variation of 3D printing, but at molecular scales.
If this works, the weight of rockets and spaceships is going to drop significantly, making access to space far less expensive. It will also make it possible for a far less power rocket to put into orbit far bigger payloads.
Every July, to celebrate the anniversary of the start of Behind the Black in 2010, I hold a month-long fund-raising campaign to make it possible for me to continue my work here for another year.
This year's fund-raising drive however is more significant in that it is also the 10th anniversary of this website's founding. It is hard to believe, but I have been doing this for a full decade, during which I have written more than 22,000 posts, of which more than 1,000 were essays and almost 2,600 were evening pauses.
This year's fund drive is also more important because of the growing intolerance of free speech and dissent in American culture. Increasingly people who don't like what they read are blatantly acting to blackball sites like mine. I have tried to insulate myself from this tyrannical effort by not depending on Google advertising or cross-posts Facebook or Twitter. Though this prevents them from having a hold on me, it also acts to limit my exposure.
Therefore, I hope you will please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:
If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
Cortaro, AZ 85652