3 years ago by in Natural Science, Natural Science, Technology, Technology

Aerogel is a synthetic porous ultralight material derived from a gel, in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas. The result is a solid with extremely low density and thermal conductivity. Nicknames include “frozen smoke”,[2] “solid smoke”, “solid air” or “blue smoke” owing to its translucent nature and the way light scatters in the material; however, it feels like extruded polystyrene (Styrofoam) to the touch.

Aerogel was first created by Samuel Stephens Kistler in 1931, as a result of a bet with Charles Learned over who could replace the liquid in “jellies” with gas without causing shrinkage.[3][4]

Aerogels are produced by extracting the liquid component of a gel through supercritical drying. This allows the liquid to be slowly dried off without causing the solid matrix in the gel to collapse from capillary action, as would happen with conventional evaporation. The first aerogels were produced from silica gels. Kistler’s later work involved aerogels based on alumina, chromia and tin dioxide. Carbon aerogels were first developed in the late 1980s.


Despite their name, aerogels are solid, rigid, and dry materials that do not resemble a gel in their physical properties; the name comes from the fact that they are made from gels. Pressing softly on an aerogel typically does not leave even a minor mark; pressing more firmly will leave a permanent depression. Pressing extremely firmly will cause a catastrophic breakdown in the sparse structure, causing it to shatter like glass – a property known as friability; although more modern variations do not suffer from this. 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 whichspherical 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 just under 100 nm. The average size and density of the pores can be controlled during the manufacturing process.

Aerogels are good thermal insulators because they almost nullify two of the three methods of heat transfer (convection, conduction, and radiation). They are goodconductive insulators because they are composed almost entirely from a gas, and gases are very poor heat conductors. Silica aerogel is especially good because silica is also a poor conductor of heat (a metallic aerogel, on the other hand, would be less effective). They are good convective inhibitors because air cannot circulate through the lattice. Aerogels are poor radiative insulators because infrared radiation (which transfers heat) passes right through silica aerogel.

Owing to its hygroscopic nature, aerogel feels dry and acts as a strong desiccant. Persons handling aerogel for extended periods should wear gloves to prevent the appearance of dry brittle spots on their skin.

The slight color it does have is due to Rayleigh scattering of the shorter wavelengths of visible light by the nanosized dendritic structure. This causes it to appear smoky blue against dark backgrounds and yellowish against bright backgrounds.

Aerogels by themselves are hydrophilic, but chemical treatment can make them hydrophobic. If they absorb moisture they usually suffer a structural change, such as contraction, and deteriorate, but degradation can be prevented by making them hydrophobic. Aerogels with hydrophobic interiors are less susceptible to degradation than aerogels with only an outer hydrophobic layer, even if a crack penetrates the surface. Hydrophobic treatment facilitates processing because it allows the use of a water jet cutter.






Aerogels are used for a variety of applications:

  • In granular form to add insulation to skylights. Georgia Institute of Technology’s 2007 Solar Decathlon House project used an aerogel as an insulator in the semi-transparent roof.
  • Transparent silica aerogel would be very suitable as a thermal insulation material for windows, significantly limiting thermal losses of buildings. One research team has shown that producing aerogel in a weightless environment can produce particles with a more uniform size and reduce the Rayleigh scattering effect in silica aerogel, thus making the aerogel less blue and more transparent.
  • A chemical adsorber for cleaning up spills.
  • A catalyst or a catalyst carrier.
  • Thickening agents in some paints and cosmetics.
  • Laser targets for the National Ignition Facility.
  • Commercial manufacture of aerogel ‘blankets’ began around the year 2000, combining silica aerogel and fibrous reinforcement that turns the brittle aerogel into a durable, flexible material. The mechanical and thermal properties of the product may be varied based upon the choice of reinforcing fibers, the aerogel matrix and opacification additives included in the composite.
  • NASA used an aerogel to trap space dust particles aboard the Stardust spacecraft. The particles vaporize on impact with solids and pass through gases, but can be trapped in aerogels. NASA also used aerogel for thermal insulation of the Mars Rover and space suits.
  • The US Navy is evaluating aerogel undergarments as passive thermal protection for divers.
  • In particle physics as radiators in Cherenkov effect detectors, such as the ACC system of the Belle detector, used in the Belle Experiment at KEKB. The suitability of aerogels is determined by their low index of refraction, filling the gap between gases and liquids, and their transparency and solid state, making them easier to use than cryogenic liquids or compressed gases. Their low mass is also advantageous for space missions.
  • Resorcinol–formaldehyde aerogels (polymers chemically similar to phenol formaldehyde resins) are used as precursors for manufacture of carbon aerogels, or when an organic insulator with large surface is desired. They come as high-density material, with surface area about 600 m2/g.
  • Metal–aerogel nanocomposites prepared by impregnating the hydrogel with solution containing ions of a transition metal and irradiating the result with gamma rays, precipitates nanoparticles of the metal. Such composites can be used as catalysts, sensors, electromagnetic shielding, and in waste disposal. A prospective use of platinum-on-carbon catalysts is in fuel cells.
  • As a drug delivery system owing to its biocompatibility. Due to its high surface area and porous structure, drugs can be adsorbed from supercritical CO
    2. The release rate of the drugs can be tailored based on the properties of aerogel
  • Carbon aerogels are used in the construction of small electrochemical double layer supercapacitors. Due to the high surface area of the aerogel, these capacitors can be 1/2000th to 1/5000th the size of similarly rated electrolytic capacitors. Aerogel supercapacitors can have a very low impedance compared to normal supercapacitors and can absorb or produce very high peak currents. At present, such capacitors are polarity-sensitive and need to be wired in series to achieve a working voltage of greater than about 2.75 V.
  • Dunlop Sport uses aerogel in some of its raccqets for tennis, squash and badminton.
  • In water purification, chalcogels have shown promise in absorbing the heavy metal pollutants mercury, lead, and cadmium from water.
  • Aerogel can introduce disorder into superfluid helium-3.



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