Futuristic materials — metal foam, transparent aluminum — are now a reality

The age we live in is marked by swift technological advancement. We’ve already got intelligent machines, smart devices and futuristic weaponry. Humankind is exploring outer space and the depths of our oceans.

None of these breakthroughs would be possible without special materials with extraordinary properties, capable of withstanding great temperatures, weight or pressure. Here are a few amazing examples:

Graphene is a one-atom-thick carbon sheet whose structure may seem fragile but is in fact 100 times stronger than steel (by weight), an excellent conductor of both heat and electricity, as well as nearly transparent. It was first measurably produced in lab conditions in 2003.

Graphene may one day help us build a space elevator — a ribbon-like cable, capable of transporting cargo from the surface directly into the Earth’s orbit or space, without the use of space rockets.

Space elevators are still some years off, but it doesn’t mean graphene has no other uses — quite the contrary. It is the key ingredient in creating cheaper solar and fuel cells, disease-diagnosing sensors and more.



Although aerogel was first produced decades ago (in 1931), it still has awesome properties that I absolutely have to tell you about. First of all, the term “aerogel” does not denote a specific material; rather, it encompasses a group of materials with a specific geometric structure. It is made by extracting the liquid from a gel while keeping the “solid” part intact. The resulting substance is transparent, porous, solid, rigid and dry. Aerogel is almost weightless, its structure consisting of 98.2% air.

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Those properties sound neat, but is there more to it? First, aerogels are excellent insulators, almost nullifying the heat transfer through their surface. Here’s an example: On the image below, a delicate flower laid on a thin piece of aerogel is unscathed by the scorching Bunsen burner beneath. The flame from the burner can reach temperatures up to 1,100-1,200 celsius (2,000-2,200 fahrenheit).


Aerogel is soft and can shatter under pressure, but in recent research, NASA developed ways to polymer-reinforce it, thus making it much more robust. New and improved polymers could be used in futuristic space suits, cryogenics and more.


Aerogels are porous and low in density, but can be made to be strong with new technology developed at NASA. Mary Ann Meador of NASA’s Glenn Research Center, in the picture above, demonstrates the strength of new aerogels.

Fraunhofer IFAM Dresden

Metal foam

Here’s another porous material that could be used for amazing things in the future, such as building floating cities or space colonies. Metal foam is very light — so light, in fact, that some variants float on water. It can have other, more mundane uses, such as in the automobile industry (to reduce weight), to enhance the energy absorption properties of a structure without increasing its weight, or for sound and mechanical shock isolation.


Transparent aluminum

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No, I’m not talking about the “Star Trek” variant. This type of transparent aluminum is made of an aluminum-based ceramic, aluminum oxynitride, also called ALON. It is commercially synthesized and manufactured by Surmet Corp. of Burlington, Mass. The material itself has extraordinary properties. ALON is 80% transparent, almost as hard as sapphire and very resistant to damage from oxidation or radiation. A 1.6-inch-thick piece of ALON armor is capable of stopping 0.50-caliber armor-piercing machine-gun rounds.



This material, manufactured by D30 lab in Hove, England, is a flexible, Play-Doh-like material, designed to momentarily turn rigid when hit, thus absorbing impact and protecting whatever is on the other end.

D30 is used in protection gear for athletes. Other uses include applications in the military, medicine, footwear and more.

Light-transmitting concrete

A Hungarian architect invented LiTraCon — short for “light-transmitting concrete” — in 2001, and he started his own Budapest-based company in 2004. This material contains glass optical fibers that transmit light through the entire length of the block, thus bringing sunlight through a wall. Concrete isn’t transparent, though — it’s merely light-permeable.

Architects can use these blocks to make things such as floors lit from below or translucent walls, and the company that designed it, LiTraCon, has already made 20-meter-long beams capable of transmitting light across its entire length.

Which one of these materials do you see as the biggest game changer in the future of technology development? Let me know in the comments below! Also, if I missed any (which I’m sure I did), tell me all about it.

View more information: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/futuristic-materials-metal-foam-transparent-aluminum-are-now-a-reality-2015-06-09

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