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The world's lightest material

The microlattice is the lightest metal ever created

HRL Laboratories

The microlattice is the lightest metal structure ever created and could lead to the development of new products and the way those products are manufactured.

It’s incredibly light, yet amazingly strong and rigid.

It’s called microlattice, the lightest metal structure ever created, and it was created by scientists at HRL Laboratories, the same Malibu, California-based company that invented the laser and the semiconductor.

HRL Labs is jointly owned by Boeing and General Motors and scientists believe microlattice could revolutionize the way airplanes, cars and even buildings are constructed.

This month, Popular Mechanics magazine named the microlattice as one of 10 World-Changing Innovations for 2012.

“We’re creating the next-generation of lightweight materials and what we’re trying to do is incorporate design into the material itself,” said Alan Jacobsen, microlattice inventor and senior scientist at HRL Labs. “So just like you’d design a skyscraper or the frame of the 787, here we’re designing the material. You decide what properties you want, and then you design the materials for the particular properties.”

For Boeing, the creation of the ultra light metallic microlattice, from a polymer template, opens the door for numerous potential uses, including lightweight airplane construction, acoustic management and thermal absorption.

“This invention may allow us to construct a one-piece, single structure unmanned aerial vehicle,” said Gail Taylor-Smith, Boeing HRL Technical Director. “With mechanical properties that allow the substance to flex, we might one day be able to compress space systems to reduce deployed volume, but once in orbit could be expanded to normal size, like a pop-up satellite.”

Additionally, because the microlattice can be manipulated and produced and reproduced quickly, it’s optimal for rapid manufacturing.

“We could also have mass customization with this material and fabricate directly on the line,” Taylor-Smith said. “It will be easy and low-cost to make adjustments on the fly. It’s amazing.”