Maybe the Yankee ingenuity culture and commercial development labs aren’t dead after all. This week, Boeing Company, maker of commercial jets and military aircraft (after they bought out McDonnell Douglas) announced their latest achievement: the lightest metal ever.
This “new metal” is not actually a newly discovered element or engineered material, it’s a microlattice, or a bunch of rods called struts latticed in 3-d format which creates a strong structure that is amazingly light. This is the same idea behind styrofoams and foam core. Boeing describes how it is made thus:
The metal is a nickel-phosphorus alloy that is coated onto an open polymer structure. The polymer is then removed, leaving a structure that consists of 100nm thick walls of the nickel-phosphorus, thus creating the lightest metallic structure.
The original prototype was announced in 2011 from the development lab and was largely made of nickel, just like the alloy for this version of the microlattice. Nickel has been used for everything from money to plating musical instruments.
Here is Boeing’s demonstration of the metal itself:
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Anyone else dying to do an egg drop with this stuff? When we did it the insulating material had to be edible. We had everything from popcorn to pudding.
At this point, the development is really the microlattice design, not so much what it is made of. Now the question comes…how to use it. And that’s what commercial research and development labs are there for: to come up with original technology and materials that can be applied later.
Boeing’s R & D lab is still in business, and is actually still producing pretty cool stuff. What do you know.