First created in 1931 by Samuel Stephens Kistler while studying the properties of liquid in jellies and trying to replace them with gas without causing shrinkage, Aerogel is a slightly translucent, super strong and extremely light solid. Its amazing nature can very well be analysed from its name in the Guinness Records as the World’s lightest solid.
It is basically created by extracting or “supercritically drying” the liquid component of the gel; the idea is to dry off the moisture without causing the solid matrix of the gel to breakdown. Initially aerogels were formed from silica gels but later Kistler used alumina, tin dioxide and chromia to produce them.
Due to aerogel’s amazing properties it is also called “solid smoke”, “frozen smoke”, “solid air” or “blue smoke”. Aerogel comes out as a very light and porous material resulting in low density and low thermal conductivity making it a great insulator. It feels like brittle expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) and looks the same.
Even though it is so light, aerogel outdoes itself for being one of the most powerful materials in the world. Having 99.8% air and being 1000 times less dense than glass, it can support massive weight and can bear intense temperatures and sounds. A single one-pound block can hold half a ton of weight. Also, one inch thick aerogel has insulating properties compared to a ten inch glass window.
Apart from its other unique capabilities, aerogel also has remarkable absorbing abilities. Scientists and engineers speculate that it could be the future answer to big problems such as oil spills and also be used as a slow drug-delivery system for medical patients.
The following videos show how silica aerogel can be made at home: