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Carbon Nanofoam – The World’s Lightest Material

A new material has been developed at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa physics department. The new material is incredibly light and it has been created from carbon with nanoscale pores and extremely low density. This carbon nanofoam is among the lightest materials ever produced, it may even be in the running for the world’s lightest human created material.

The material is composed of micropearls with a nanoporous internal structure. The structure has a mass density 30 times lower than the density of graphite. The super-light material was made by hydrothermal processing of an aqueous sucrose solution. This required a combination of high pressure and high temperature, to create the physical conditions found in an autoclave or pressure cooker.

The material is three dimensional and composed primarily of carbon (it is termed ‘carbonaceous’.) Carbon nanofoam is an allotrope of carbon; it consists of a cluster-assembly of carbon atoms strung together in a loose three-dimensional web. The structure gives it potentially powerful electric and mechanical properties. The material is termed a ‘foam’ due to the number of pores within the structure.

The applications of the new material are many: car batteries, in space applications, in high-yield catalysis, as well as in biomedicine and neuroengineering. Each of these applications can take advantage of the new material’s density and large surface area. In terms of environmental standards, the material is non-toxic. The material shares many similar properties to the wonder material graphene.

The remarkable material has been reported to the journal Carbon, in a research paper titled “Ultralight carbon nanofoam from naphtalene-mediated hydrothermal sucrose carbonization.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.