New Video: How Boeing Made The Lightest. Material. Ever.

Developed by HRL Laboratories, a research institute that undertakes R&D for Boeing, microlattice is light enough to balance on top of a dandelion but is also strong enough to be used in airplane components. First revealed to the world in 2011, Boeing recently released a video revealing further details about how the lightest metal ever was made.

In the video, we see scientists exhibit the lightness of microlattice by effortlessly blowing it away and watching it float to the floor like a feather.

Sophia Yang, a research scientist at HRL Laboratories who worked with Boeing on the creation explains that the material is actually 99.9% air, with its structure made from a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes. Each tube is 1,0000 times thinner than a human hair. She compares the material to bone, whereby the outside of the bone is rigid, while the inside is mostly hollow. This open-cellular structure is remarkably strong as well as extremely lightweight.

Yang also explains the material’s ability to absorb high levels of impact using the “egg challenge” example. She explains: “You need to drop an egg from 25 stories and protect that egg…. What we can do is design the microlattice to absorb the force that the egg feels. So instead of having an egg that’s wrapped in three feet of bubble wrap, now you have a much smaller package that your egg can sit in.”

Boeing’s engineers intend to use microlattice for plane interiors –  in places such as side-panels, overhead cabins, or walkway areas. This would drastically reduce the overall weight of the aircraft, making it more fuel-efficient and cheaper to run.

In addition to its use in airplane components, microlattice applications could also include structural reinforcement, shock absorption or heat transfer. And because HRL Laboratories also undertakes R&D for General Motors, it is not unlikely that the material will also make an appearance in automobile design in the future.