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Space Science Technology

The Amazing Properties of Aerogel 556

RideMax writes "We all know NASA is using a substance called 'aerogel' in the Stardust spacecraft to catch pieces of the Wild-2 comet. The NYT is running an article about some other amazing aerogel properties. My favorite quote: 'It's the lowest density of any solid, and it has the highest thermoinsulation properties. Though it would be very expensive, you could take a two- or three-bedroom house, insulate it with aerogel, and you could heat the house with a candle. But eventually the house would become too hot.'" We've looked at Aerogel before.
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The Amazing Properties of Aerogel

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  • Really? (Score:3, Funny)

    by SargeZT ( 609463 ) * <pshanahan@mn.rr.com> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:40AM (#8040765) Homepage
    But does it's insulation properties beat that of Trellium-D?
    • I wonder (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kwelstr ( 114389 )
      Could aerogel be formed with some other gas other than air, like pure hydrogen? Would it become lighter than air then and float around?

      Just a thought, maybe some slashdotter knows, I've read the aerogel facts from the JPL page but it doesn't mention anything about this.
      • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Informative)

        by SpotWeld ( 209850 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @08:06AM (#8042126)
        The short answer is that yes it could, but only temporarily.

        I believe Aerogel is an open celled matrix, meaning that the eventually the hydrogen (especially hydrogen) would leak out causing a block of the stuff to return to the ground.

        I suppose it would be possible to seal a block of aerogel in some sort of polymer making for a structurally solid balloon.
      • Re:I wonder (Score:3, Informative)

        by Quantum-Sci ( 732727 )
        It's really just silica atoms, with great spaces between. It is a solid, and so could never be lighter than air, unless filled with a lighter-than-air gas, as the previous poster said.

    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @11:44AM (#8043914) Homepage Journal
      On a more serious note, I wonder if this stuff has any radiation shielding properties? When they fired particles into the gel, they were very quickly stopped. And placing the gel against a bunsen burner doesn't even phase it. If it protects against radiation just as well, its light weight may make it the perfect space ship shielding material.

  • by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:42AM (#8040781) Homepage Journal
    If you goddamn kids would close the goddamn door!
    • More pictures here (Score:4, Informative)

      by Kwelstr ( 114389 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @07:58AM (#8042076)
      I've found a "Silica aerogel photo gallery"

      http://eande.lbl.gov/ECS/aerogels/saphoto.htm

      Some of the pics are really amazing. Cool stuff!!!
      • For several years at Disneyland, they've had a sample of it in FutureLand or TomorrowLand or whatever it's called. Sort of across the path from Star Tours, there is a whole exhibit about the US Space Program. Inside a glass case, they have a square of Aerogel held up. Unfortunately, they don't let you touch it or anything. But it is interesting to look at - it's hard to find the edges of the material, even when you are concentrating.

        -If
      • Best quote from the "Magnetic Aerogel" photo.

        "This aerogel composite contains iron oxide introduced using chemical vapor infiltration. Nobody knows whose hand this is."

  • Too much (Score:4, Interesting)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:43AM (#8040793) Journal
    Though it would be very expensive, you could take a two- or three-bedroom house, insulate it with aerogel, and you could heat the house with a candle.

    Seems to me that in this case, having a few lights left on or PC with a hot CPU left running would quickly make things uncomfortable

    What if it was only used to certain walls where leakage was most common?
    • Re:Too much (Score:5, Insightful)

      by WegianWarrior ( 649800 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:45AM (#8040811) Journal

      What if it was only used to certain walls where leakage was most common?


      Or perhaps to insulate between windowpanes? Since it's more or less transparent, it'll let the light in, but not heat out...

      • Re:Too much (Score:3, Interesting)

        by GoRK ( 10018 )
        Don't forget that the ultimate "between two windowpanes" insulation would simply be to create a vacuum between them. Even aerogel can't beat that.

        In practical use; however, it would be better since it would last longer. I wonder though how it would stand up to the light and IR bombarding it though..
        • Maybe seal the edges of the windows with it like caulking, and have a vacuum in between?
          • Re:Too much (Score:5, Informative)

            by Eivind ( 15695 ) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @04:45AM (#8041434) Homepage
            Vacuum is *not* actually the perfect insulator. It is true that no heat is conducted trough vacuum, but on the other hand vacuum is near perfect in letting heat *radiate*. Now, if you combine vacuum with one or more reflective films to reflect back most of the radiated heat then you have eh, uhm, invented the termos-bottle.
      • Or perhaps to insulate between windowpanes?

        Aerogel is a good insulator because it's made of air. If air does not circulate, it acts as a wonderful insulator.
        That's why double glass windows work so well. I doubt they would work better with aerogel (except being dust free... :-P)
      • Re:Too much (Score:3, Interesting)

        by F34nor ( 321515 ) *
        In Qubec they do use Aerogel windows that are layered glass and Aerogel. A single pane window is as good an insulator as a moden three pane getup. Why only in Qubec? Qubec hydro makes a lot of money and every watt they save to export to the US is another dollar.
    • Re:Too much (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DAldredge ( 2353 )
      Hell, having a person in the house for an extended amount of time would make it too hot to be comfortable.
    • Very expensive? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:39AM (#8041036)
      Though it would be very expensive, you could take a two- or three-bedroom house, insulate it with aerogel, and you could heat the house with a candle.

      Maybe I'm missing something, but elsewhere they said "But, Dr. Tsou said, the material was not used much, except in powdered form as a nontoxic anti-caking agent for food."

      If it's so expensive, what kind of food exactly were they using it on? Caviar?

      • ask Monsanto (Score:3, Interesting)

        by iriles ( 35702 )
        A few years later, Kistler left the College of the Pacific and took a position with Monsanto Corp. Shortly thereafter, Monsanto began marketing a product known simply as "aerogel". Monsanto's Aerogel was a granular silica material. Little is known about the processing conditions used to make this material, but it is assumed that its production followed Kistler's procedures. Monsanto's Aerogel was used as an additive or a thixotropic agent in cosmetics and toothpastes. Very little new work on aerogels occurr
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @04:47AM (#8041445)
        Powder is cheap, but the bulk aerogel made from it is a little bit of a trick.

        Iron is pretty cheap too, but a single perfect crystal of appreciable size starts to make Platinum look positively affordable. Or graphite to diamond.

        It's not so much the atoms that make many things expensive so much as how they're put together.
      • Re:Very expensive? (Score:5, Informative)

        by retro128 ( 318602 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @05:58AM (#8041658)
        Silicon dioxide is actually very common. Actually it's a form of quartz. Unless I am mistaken it's the same stuff they put in the little white packet that comes with your hard disk to keep condensation from forming in the antistatic bag...

        Regardless, the cost of Aerogel is in its manufacture, not its ingredients. Aerogel is actually just a crystalline structure that forms when SiO2 molecules are suspended in ethanol. The trick is figuring out how to get the ethanol out and replace it with air after the lattices form. This process is called supercritical drying and involves pushing liquid CO2 though the structure at very high pressures. Actually the entire process of how to make the stuff can be found here. [lbl.gov] It's suprisingly simple. Besides the supercritical drying bit, it seems almost like something you could make yourself.

      • Diatom skeletons are made of silicon dioxide. Grinding up aerogel seems like a waste of time when diatomaceous earth can be mined by the dump truck load.

        Diatomaceous earth is 100% natural microscopic glass shards. Being microscopic glass shards they are an excellent insecticide. The shards pierce the insect's shell and through capilarry action, they suck out all the internal fluids drying the bug to a corpse. However, the shards are so small that humans can ingest them without fear of harm.

        So if you

    • Re:Too much (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Znork ( 31774 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @04:49AM (#8041452)
      Insulation isnt really the problem anyway. It's easy to make a house you could heat with a candle. Modern houses in countries with cold winters have triple glazing and good insulation, with negligable heat loss through windows and walls.

      The problem is ventilation. Even apart from the issue that you'd suffocate, houses that are too insulated are almost guaranteed get mold problems. You need a constant airflow, and that's where you get the major heat loss. Of course, various techniques like heat exchangers exist to ameliorate this, but unfortunately the technology for 100% efficiency is not quite there yet.
      • Re:Too much (Score:4, Interesting)

        by fucksl4shd0t ( 630000 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @06:13AM (#8041702) Homepage Journal

        The problem is ventilation. Even apart from the issue that you'd suffocate, houses that are too insulated are almost guaranteed get mold problems. You need a constant airflow, and that's where you get the major heat loss.

        THe solution is refrigeration. :) I posted this elsewhere, but decided to come back and respond to you where it would be more useful. ;)

        You need an intake baffle and an exhaust baffle. ON the intake baffle you put a condensor and on the exhaust baffle you put an evaporator. Pump freon through the system, of course. You also need fans to keep the air flow going properly.

        So, freon evaporates in the evaporator, sucking up heat from the air that is being blown out of the house. Then it gets pumped and compressed over to the condensor, where it it condenses into liquid and dumps its heat, right into the air blowing into the house. The heat is kept in the house that way.

        Now, I realize the goal is energy-efficiency, and adding another refrigerator to your electric bill probably isn't energy-efficient, but it's my opinion that there's a solution to the efficient problems of air conditioning, I just haven't spent a lot of time on it--yet. :)

      • Re:Too much (Score:4, Interesting)

        by caffeineboy ( 44704 ) <skidmore.22@os u . e du> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @09:09AM (#8042513)
        I saw an interesting plan that was designed to help this;

        Essentially, they were causing a natural convection in the house with a trombe wall [wikipedia.org] with a vent window at the top that could be opened and closed to control temperature. In combination with this they were drawing outside air through ventilator tubes buried in the earth near the house. This was supposed to "earth temper" the air to ~68F before it entered the house - cool in winter, hot in summer.

        They also mentioned that the louvered windows could be made automatic with a system of balances using fluids with appropriate boiling points (like the drinky-bird from the 70s).

        I wonder how well this actually works?

  • R-factor? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BlindSpot ( 512363 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:44AM (#8040800)
    I'm just curious as to what the R-factor would be. The article does not specify this.
  • by noelo ( 661375 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:45AM (#8040804)
    aka Vaporware... Made of 99.6 percent empty space, the little cube is indeed barely there, with a density one-hundredth that of the hand that holds it.
  • by dekashizl ( 663505 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:45AM (#8040809) Journal
    Some facts, from JPL Aerogel site [nasa.gov]:
    • It is 99.8% Air
    • Provides 39 times more insulating than the best fiberglass insulation
    • Is 1,000 times less dense than glass
    • Was used on the Mars Pathfinder rover
    And a cool picture [nasa.gov] of aerogel in somebody's hand.

    --
    For news, status, updates, scientific info, images, video, and more, check out:
    (AXCH) 2004 Mars Exploration Rovers - News, Status, Technical Info, History [axonchisel.net].
    • Aerogel FAQ (Score:5, Informative)

      by dekashizl ( 663505 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:47AM (#8040824) Journal
      Very good Aerogel FAQ [nasa.gov].

      --
      For news, status, updates, scientific info, images, video, and more, check out:
      (AXCH) 2004 Mars Exploration Rovers - News, Status, Technical Info, History [axonchisel.net].
    • by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:40AM (#8041037)
      It's interesting that Aerogel is always mentioned as being the insulator on the mars Sojourner Rover (and current mars rovers) but it's almost never mentioned that the heat source inside the insulated electronics boxes is not merely waste resistive heating from the electronic components themselves, but from Plutonium Radioisotope [doe.gov] Heater Units of a couple ounces each. Maybe it's a good thing they're kept low profile, the clueless luddites [animatedsoftware.com] would have a field day.
    • C'mon, anyone can tell that the picture was faked in a studio, it's obvious from the shadows cast by the so-called "aerogel". Just one more NASA conspiracy to convince us that they spend our tax dollars on worth subjects. Hrghmh.

    • Re:Aerogel Facts (Score:3, Informative)

      by egede ( 266062 )
      Aerogel is also used within particle physics for telling different types of particles apart in Cherenkov detectors.

      In any transparent material particles will emit light in a cone around their trajectory when they are travelling faster than the speed of light in that material (analogous to sonic boom produced by plane going faster than speed of sound). From measuring the angle the light is emitted at we can work out the velocity. The range of velocities we are sensitive to depends on the refractive index of
      • Re:Aerogel Facts (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hubie ( 108345 )
        You forgot to mention the reason for using Aerogels as Cherenkov detectors: they present very little mass, so low-mass particles will not interact and/or deposit much energy in them (e.g., for electrons the Aerogel will act only as a Cherenkov detector and not a calorimeter). The only other real alternative for getting indices of refraction barely over 1.0 is to use pressurized gases, which present a whole series of their own problems.
  • by NeuralAbyss ( 12335 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:45AM (#8040813) Homepage
    Seems like quite a few successes are discovered by mistake.. in this instance, finding a rejected material from nuclear testing.
  • Aerogel? (Score:3, Funny)

    by mrpuffypants ( 444598 ) * <mrpuffypants@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:46AM (#8040814)
    -------------
    Aerogel? From this point on this discussion will be rated NC-17...
    -------------
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:46AM (#8040816)
    It also has incredible compressive strength. "It can take 2,000 times its body weight without damage," Dr. Tsou said. NASA's Web site shows a 2-gram cube of aerogel (less than 0.1 ounce) supporting a 2.5-kilogram brick (about 5.5 pounds).

    That particular example doesn't seem that impressive, I used to build balsa wood structures that would hold over 600 lbs(~270kg), with only 15 grams of balsa wood and glue, with strict rules on how it could be built. The world record is somewhere in the 1500 lb mark with a similar weight of wood.
  • Try making Aerogel in Zero G under a 45 second time constraint. Now that takes talent.
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:54AM (#8040872) Homepage
    I heard of Aerogel long ago, but I assume the issue is the same as then - price. Is it getting better, or is it still for those really really extreme projects only? It's cool in the same way superconductors are, but you don't get to play around with them...

    Kjella
    • by eric76 ( 679787 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @03:40AM (#8041237)

      I was curious about the prices, too.

      At What's an aerogel? [post-gazette.com], there is this:

      Normally,
      the blankets are a pricey $45 per square foot.

      ... The price should drop to about $3 per square foot when a larger production plant is opened. The blankets already are being used in some high-end winter clothing and, if the price comes down, could find their way into hundreds of products, including building insulation, he added.

      • by fantomas ( 94850 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @06:55AM (#8041821)

        Anyvbody with some industry knowledge care to comment on the chances of the prices coming down? This material sounds like it would be phenomonal to help with insulation in industrial and domestic applications, do a world of good to sort out global warming. The byline about a candle heating a house seems a bit of hyperbole but if it's even in the same ballpark as this then imagine the savings people would make on heating / air conditioning.


        Realistically, is it likely to become affordable? like teflon went from space product to saucepans? or is it like space travel (by the 1970s we'll all be travelling to the moon on our holidays for no more than the price of a holiday in Florida...)?

  • my god... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ruebarb ( 114845 ) <colorache@nOSPAM.hotmail.com> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:56AM (#8040885)
    let me get this straight....virtually unbelieveable insulation at the coldest of temperatures...creating super greenhouses/habitats and so forth...

    improves the desalination of seawater plants a thousand fold...

    my god....all we have to do is find a cheap or easier way to produce (like we do with virtually everything in the world in the free enterprise system) and we can offer virtually energy free habitats (excess heat can be channelled into electronics and solar can pick up the rest) - as well as a cheap water supply for the world...

    christ...someone get me some chemists and a few venture capitalists.....this is incredible... - and it's real and now...not like those carbon nanofibers people want to use to create space elevators...

    pax
    RB
    • my god....all we have to do is find a cheap or easier way to produce

      If only I could find a cheap and easy way to produce money...

    • Re:my god... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Indras ( 515472 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @08:08AM (#8042138)
      all we have to do is find a cheap or easier way to produce

      A friend of mine said that the reason aerogel has the light bluish tint to it is that the crystal structure does not form perfectly due to earth's gravity. Aerogel made in zero-G should, in theory, be completely clear.

      Now, if we added a module to the ISS to make transparent aerogel, the ISS would fund itself! I mean, think about it... with how much it costs per cubic inch of the tinted stuff, and the fact that the ISS would have a monopoly on all transparent aerogel produced, you could charge practically whatever you wanted, and sell it to governments around the world.
      • by scrytch ( 9198 )
        Now, if we added a module to the ISS to make transparent aerogel, the ISS would fund itself! I mean, think about it... with how much it costs per cubic inch of the tinted stuff, and the fact that the ISS would have a monopoly on all transparent aerogel produced, you could charge practically whatever you wanted, and sell it to governments around the world.

        How would you find it?
  • For sale (Score:2, Informative)

    Buy some aerogels [cabot-corp.com], made in Germany. We know that they have great insulating properties, but is it insulating per unit weight? If that is the case, it is probably because they weigh so little and therefore they don't allow any convective cooling. All the cooling has to be by temperature conduction, which is not efficient in air.
    • Re:For sale (Score:5, Informative)

      by eric76 ( 679787 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @03:42AM (#8041244)

      From What's an aerogel? [post-gazette.com]:

      Lee's Marlborough, Mass., firm specializes in silica aerogels -- "puffed up sand," as he calls it. He calls aerogels the original nanotechnology because the hair-like structures are only a nanometer -- a billionth of a meter -- in diameter and separated by only 20 nanometers.

      The spacing is so tight, Lee said, that air molecules don't have much room to vibrate. And if an air molecule can't vibrate, it has trouble exciting other air molecules. And that means, he concluded, that heat and sound are not transmitted readily through an aerogel.

      • That is nonsense (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        "Air molecules don't have room to vibrate"? In other words, their temperature magically drops to 0 Kelvin? What I think he is trying to say is they don't have room to convect. Molecules vibrate as a function of temperature. Even if the air molecule were chemically bonded to something, it would still vibrate as a function of temperature.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Oops! At first, I thought it said "The Amazing Properties of Astroglide".

    You know what I'm talkin' about. *Wink*Wink* Nudge*Nudge* :P

  • by dstone ( 191334 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @01:59AM (#8040897) Homepage
    The article doesn't touch on it, but the NASA FAQ [nasa.gov] mentions this unique property...

    Q: What happens if I touch it?

    A: Silica aerogel is semi-elastic because it returns to its original form if slightly deformed. If further deformed, a dimple will be created. However, if the elastic limit is exceeded, it will shatter catastrophically, like glass.
  • Photos (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:01AM (#8040906)
    Some cool shots [nasa.gov].
  • by state*less ( 246807 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:07AM (#8040926)
    Here's a nerdy factiod about aerogel that might help your processor speed.

    There has been some close research into using substances like aerogel to improve processor speeds. Apparently the substances can be used as very efficient insulators between traces and components. This is because aerogel and substances like it are mostly made of air, which has a very high dielectric constant so aerogel itself is a very good insulator.

    It's better described here [nasa.gov]
  • more on aerogel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by movefaster ( 743793 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:15AM (#8040958)
    I have a friend who works on this. Here is a NASA newspaper article [nasa.gov] on her work; here is her website [usc.edu], showing aerogel in many different configurations. If you want to know more about it, you could always drop her a line.

    While I'm sure aerogel has many pracitcal uses (trying not to fall asleep here), the "cool" factor is also very high. I've seen some of her samples, and everything the article says is correct. It's so light it feels like the wind could take it; in fact, if you drop it in water, I think it dissolves. Since the material is so expensive, it's obviously something you don't want to do, since every last piece is precious.

    As you might imagine, a material that's ultra-light and 'holographic' has artistic applications, too. The "brain" image made it onto the cover of Nature neuroscience, and wouldn't look out of place in a design magazine. When you see it up close, the image seems to be 'embedded' in the material, even though it's so light you could easily crush it with your hand. The airiness and delicacy of the material makes the image that much more striking.

    While we're all attuned to the utilitarian value of materials like this, it's always neat to see what people outside of engineering can do with them.

  • Where to buy? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Judg3 ( 88435 ) <jeremy.pavleck@com> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:21AM (#8040991) Homepage Journal
    Check it out - this auction [ebay.com] on Ebay is selling a 4-6 Cubic inch chunk of Aerogel with a "Buy it Now" price of $160. Considering the auction says it costs about $200 per cubic inch to make, thats a deal. I'm guessing some /.'er with deep pockets will be buying this pretty soon!
  • by PureFiction ( 10256 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:29AM (#8041015)
    you can buy this stuff from MarkeTech [mkt-intl.com] for the rock bottom price of $975 a 4x8x0.5" piece.

    I'll let someone else figure out how expensive an entire house would be to insulate.

    Note that this isn't even the really good stuff (the average density of the commercial stuff is only 99.9% air, while the hi-tech versions used by NASA can be as high as 99.99% air or more)
    • that should be 99% air, and 99.9% air.
    • I'll let someone else figure out how expensive an entire house would be to insulate.

      Ok, I'll bite.
      • That piece is 16 in^3. Thus, it's about $60.94 per cubic inch.
      • Let's take a 16'x16' room -- not a bad size for a living room or such. 16'x16' is 192"x192".
      • Figure our 2x4 studs are 16" on center. That makes for 12 stud spaces (the space between studs) in a wall, or 48 stud spaces for the room (this room has no doors, windows, etc.)
      • That makes the space between studs (ignoring the size of the stud itself
  • by arrianus ( 740942 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:30AM (#8041017)
    For those of you who like stupid science tricks/supercheap climate control, here's a trick for how to heat and cool a house without using any energy (outside of what's free from the Sun):

    First, some background on black body radiation. All matter radiates some light, based on its temperature. By basic thermodynamics, the amount of radiation that a color of matter absorbs in a given frequency range (as opposed to reflects) is directly proportional to how much it radiates (as compared to a perfect black body of the same temperature).

    The sun only radiates on a fairly small set of frequencies, and that set is very different from the frequencies at which a black body at room temperature radiates. If you build a panel of a material that is perfectly absorbent in the frequencies on which the Sun radiates (perfect black body), but reflects in the remaining frequencies (perfectly white on the blackbody frequencies of room temperature), it will lose very little heat to radiation, but absorb a lot from the sun, and it'll get very hot. If you take a body that reflects radiation in the colors the sun emits (white), but absorbs/radiates elsewhere (black), it'll get very, very cool, even in bright sunlight. You can get pretty close to the full 1000W/m^2 of heating (level of Sun's radiation hitting the earth). In cooling, you get pretty close to the ideal from Stefan's Law (http://www.egglescliffe.org.uk/physics/astronomy/ blackbody/bbody.html), which gives 300-500W/m^2 at typical Earth temperatures (over 400W/m^2 heat loss at typical room temperature).

    This means that you can theoretically heat or cool a house with just a painted square on the roof a few square meters in area, if you could just create a material of the right color.

    Problem is the guy who came up with this (and showed it to me) was a physicist and not a chemist, and had no idea how one would go about creating a material whose color was that well controlled.

    Still a nifty concept, eh? If you could make this, it would save a ton of energy, since you'd no longer need to burn gas to heat and use electricity to cool -- just flip a panel on your roof, and the temperature changes (although for heating, the house would need to be well enough insulated to last the night).
  • by phr1 ( 211689 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:30AM (#8041018)
    Along with perfect ballbearings and other ideas that didn't work out, one of the more interesting suggestions for zero-g (actually microgravity) manufacture was metal foams. The idea is to shoot gas bubbles into molten metal. With no gravity to make the bubbles rise to the top, they'd stay where they were, and cooling down the mix would result in metal foam, sort of like foam rubber except with metal instead of rubber. I wonder if aerogel amounts to the same thing and could be made the same way?

    Ref: The Third Industrial Revolution by G. Harry Stine.

  • by aiken_d ( 127097 ) <brooks@t[ ]entry.com ['ang' in gap]> on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:36AM (#8041033) Homepage

    See CDT Water [cdtwater.com] for one practical, functional application of aerogel.

    In short, they push contaminated water through aerogel and use electrodes to pull ionic molecules apart. The ions get caught in the aerogel mesh, and the purified water flows through. At least, that's my layman's understanding of it.

    Cheers
    -b

  • Bulletproof? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by adept256 ( 732470 )
    It might not be flexible, but it's very light. If it can catch dust flying at 14,000mph, surely this would be the perfect material for a bulletproof vest.
  • by POds ( 241854 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @02:50AM (#8041082) Homepage Journal
    If Aerogel is that good at insulation, screw the candel, i'll just rely on the body heat of myself and others :/
  • Is this substance edible, and if so can add artificial cherry flavoring without altering its' thermoinsulation properties? The Mac OS X spell checker does not recognize the word, "thermoinsulation", and yet NASA loves Macs. Go figure.
  • Link me up (Score:3, Informative)

    by ZeroExistenZ ( 721849 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @05:35AM (#8041593)
  • by burbilog ( 92795 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @07:06AM (#8041863) Homepage
    IR-invisibility cloak. Just wear it and be hidden from all IR eyes in the sky... neat.
    • R-invisibility cloak. Just wear it and be hidden from all IR eyes in the sky... neat.#

      Just wear it and burn to death within an hour more like.

      You could always fill your pants with dry ice before putting it on, that might buy you another hour.
  • by IDigUNIX ( 544392 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @08:54AM (#8042412)

    Ok, so if aerogel has the lowest density of any solid, what has the highest density?

    Right now I'm thinking that it's either corporate America's CxO's, or perhaps whoever keeps watching all of these dumbass reality shows on tv.

  • by Cthefuture ( 665326 ) on Wednesday January 21, 2004 @11:12AM (#8043573)
    Aerogel is cool stuff. I've recently been experimenting with aerogel capacitors. These suckers can hold a huge amount of energy. Right in front of me I have two 2.5V 50-farad (yes farads, not microfarads) capacitors.

    Fun for robotic projects and such. Many common devices are using super-capacitors like these. Those tiny remote control cars and those battery-free flashlights are a couple examples.

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