Detail of the microscopic structure of aerographite
Courtesy the University of Kiel Detail of the microscopic structure of aerographite

Despite being one of the oldest materials to be manipulated by humankind, carbon is also the source of many bleeding-edge substances created in scientific laboratories today. The attainment of ultrahigh performance criteria in materials often involves the generation of new atomic structures using carbon as a primary ingredient—such as in carbon nanotubes or graphene.

As a case in point, researchers at the University of Kiel recently announced the creation of the lightest solid material ever made, based on a microtube manifestation of carbon. The scientists call their material aerographite, based on the substance's ephemeral quality. Aerographite weighs under 200 micrograms per cubic centimeter, which is a mere quarter of the weight of nickel microlattices—the previous record-holder for lightest solid. Despite its light weight, aerographite is endowed with significant strength based on its microtube lattice structure.

The Kiel researchers suggest that aerographite will revolutionize energy transmission and storage, allowing for lighter and stronger electrical components that also provide greater stability and longevity.