Did You See This?

99.9 Percent Air

An incredibly strong material so light a dandelion puffball can support its weight.

In the video above, Boeing introduces an incredibly lightweight new metal it’s just developed and released upon the manufacturing world. It’s so light a dandelion puffball can support its weight, and yet it’s one of the strongest materials known to science.

Boeing hopes it can be used, all of places, on the company’s aircraft. The lighter a plane is, the less fuel it needs, so its use could have some great economic and environmental benefits. The possible applications outside of aviation are many.

Boeing’s researchers refer to this open-cellular polymer-structured material as “microlattice.” It takes a cue from bones—there’s a hard surface on the outside, but on the inside there’s mostly nothing. Microlattice is actually 99.9 percent air.

In addition to its remarkable lightness, the material is fantastic at absorbing energy or force. HRL Labs research scientist Sophia Yang breaks out the old physics/engineering riddle of how to drop an egg from a skyscraper without breaking it as a way to demonstrate microlattice’s amazing compression talents. Students often propose wrapping the egg in layer after layer of bubble wrap, but then the egg may still shatter. Microlattice, by contrast, can be designed to absorb the force of impact, keeping the egg intact in a much smaller protective package.

As for Boeing’s aircraft, the new metal could come in handy for interior wall panels, floor panels, and overhead bins. While flyers might not notice the difference, the planes on which they travel could become significantly more fuel efficient thanks to microlattice.