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Friday, January 14, 2011

Aerogels (Carbon nano tubes)

A 2.5 kg brick is supported by
a piece of
 aerogel weighing only 2 grams.
             Aerogel is a manufactured material with the lowest bulk density of any known porous solid. It is derived from a gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas. The result is an extremely low-density solid, with a notable effectiveness as a thermal insulator. It is nicknamed frozen smoke, solid smoke, solid air or blue smoke due to its translucent nature and the way light scatters in the material; however, it feels like expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) to the touch.
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 drawn 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 oxide. Carbon aerogels were first developed in the late 1980s.

Heat Resistance 
              Despite their name, aerogels are rigid, dry materials and do not resemble a gel in their physical properties; the name comes from the fact that they are derived from gels. Pressing softly on an aerogel typically does not leave a mark; pressing more firmly will leave a permanent depression. Pressing firmly enough will cause a catastrophic breakdown in the sparse structure, causing it to shatter like glass—a property known as friability; although more modern variations do not suffer from this.[citation needed] Despite the fact that it is prone to shattering, it is very strong structurally. Its impressive load bearing abilities are due to the dendritic microstructure, in which spherical particles of average size 2–5 nm are fused together into clusters. These clusters form a three-dimensional highly porous structure of almost fractalchains, with pores just under 100 nm. The average size and density of the pores can be controlled during the manufacturing process.
Aerogels are good thermal insulators because they almost nullify the three methods of heat transfer (convection, conduction, and radiation). They are good conductive insulators because they are composed almost entirely from a gas, and gases are very poor heat conductors. Silica aerogel is especially good because silica is also a poor conductor of heat (a metallic aerogel, on the other hand, would be less effective). They are good convective inhibitors because air cannot circulate through the lattice. Carbon aerogel is a good radiative insulator because carbon absorbs the infrared radiation that transfers heat at standard temperatures.
Less Weight 
Due to its hygroscopic nature, aerogel feels dry and acts as a strong desiccant. Persons handling aerogel for extended periods should wear gloves to prevent the appearance of dry brittle spots on their skin.