Aerosol, It looks like frozen smoke. And it’s the lightest solid material on the planet. Aerogel insulates space suits, makes tennis rackets stronger and could be used one day to clean up oil spills. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist Alex Gash shows us some remarkable properties of this truly unique substance.
Aerogel was first created by Samuel Stephens Kistler in 1931, as a result of a bet with Charles Learned over who could replace the liquid in “jellies” with gas without causing shrinkage. Aerogels are produced by extracting the liquid component of a gel through supercritical drying. This allows the liquid to be slowly dried off without causing the solid matrix in the gel to collapse from capillary action, as would happen with conventional evaporation. The first aerogels were produced from silica gels. Kistler’s later work involved aerogels based on alumina, chromia and tin dioxide. Carbon aerogels were first developed in the late 1980s.
Stardust will use aerogel to capture particles from comet Wild 2 in 2004. NASA used aerogel for thermal insulation on the Mars Pathfinder mission. It will also be used on the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover, and may aid a proposed fundamental- physics testing mission and the Mars Scout Program.