Aerogel: The World’s Lightest Super Material

In this true story, learn how Dr. Samuel Kistler invented aerogel, a gel-like substance devoid of liquids with widespread applicability.

Aerogel: The World’s Lightest Super Material - Alpha Moment

Challenge

Win a Bet With a Collegue
In the late 1920s, farmer turned chemistry professor Dr. Samuel Kistler made a bet with his colleague Charles Learned over what contributed to the defining characteristics of a gel: its liquid properties or its structure. Set to prove that structure was the key (and Mr. Learned wrong), Kistler attempted to remove the liquid from a gel, while maintaining the gel’s properties. But his first attempts, by evaporating the gel’s liquid, failed.

Solution

Almost as Light as Air, and Super Strong
In 1931, using a process known as ‘supercritical drying,’ Samuel Kistler successfully replaced the liquid in a gel with gas, creating a substance that was gel-like in structure without the presence of a liquid. The material became known as aerogel, winning the bet for Samuel Kistler and introducing aerogel, the lightest solid known to man with many other useful properties, to the world.

Did you know that aerogel can be made out of silica, carbon and metal oxides, and is able to support 500-4000 times its own weight?

Impact

From Inside Your Home to Outer Space How Do You Get To Alpha?
Aerogel’s unique properties have seen it used in all types of applications, from thickening agents in cosmetics and paint to home insulation. NASA even used aerogel as a tool for collecting space dust – bringing it back from space intact – which was previously impossible!



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