the aerogel Images (solid smoke)

Aerogel is a low-density solid-state material derived from gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with gas. The result is an extremely low density solid with several remarkable properties, most notably its effectiveness as an insulator. It is nicknamed frozen smoke,[1] solid smoke or blue smoke due to its semi-transparent nature and the way light scatters in the material; however, it feels like expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) to the touch.

To the touch, aerogels feel like a light but rigid foam, something between Styrofoam and the green floral foam used for arranging flowers. Despite what their name may suggest, aerogels are dry materials and do not resemble a gel in their physical properties but a nanofoam. (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 dimple. Pressing firmly enough will cause a catastrophic breakdown in the sparse structure, causing it to shatter like glass—a property known as friability. 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 fractal chains, with pores smaller than 100 nm. The average size and density of the pores can be controlled during the manufacturing process.


Silica aerogel is made by drying a hydrogel composed of colloidal silica in an extreme environment. Specifically, the process starts with a liquid alcohol like ethanol which is mixed with a silicon alkoxide precursor to form a silicon dioxide sol gel (silica gel). Then, through a process called supercritical drying, the alcohol is removed from the gel. This is typically done by exchanging the ethanol for liquid acetone, allowing a better miscibility gradient, and then onto liquid carbon dioxide and then bringing the carbon dioxide above its critical point. A variant on this process involves the direct injection of supercritical carbon dioxide into the pressure vessel containing the aerogel. The end result removes all liquid from the gel and replaces it with gas, without allowing the gel structure to collapse or lose volume. Aerogel composites have been made using a variety of continuous and discontinuous reinforcements. The high aspect ratio of fibers such as fiberglass have been used to reinforce aerogel composites with significantly improved mechanical properties. Resorcinol-formaldehyde aerogel (RF aerogel) is made in a way similar to production of silica aerogel. Carbon aerogel is made from a resorcinol-formaldehyde aerogel by its pyrolysis in inert gas atmosphere, leaving a matrix of carbon. It is commercially available as solid shapes, powders, or composite paper.

A 2.5 kg brick is supported on top of a piece of aerogel weighing only 2 grams.


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