Lightest Metal Ever, Boeing’s Microlattice Weighs Less Than Styrofoam [Video]

According to a new short film produced by Boeing, microlattice is the lightest metal ever made. The material is 99.99 percent air by volume, rendering it light enough to rest atop a dandelion seed head, but it is remarkably strong and resilient.

Metallic microlattice isn’t exactly brand new. In fact, the material was named one of 10 world-changing innovators for 2012 by Popular Mechanics.

At that time, Popular Mechanics described microlattice as “100 times lighter than styrofoam packing peanuts” and suggested that it might find uses in the automotive and aerospace industries as well as medical applications.

Now the lightest metal ever is back in the news thanks to a Boeing-produced short film, which you can watch below.

Metallic microlattice was developed by HRL Laboratories, which is the former research arm of Hughes Aircraft. Yes, the same Hughes Aircraft founded by infamous eccentric Howard Hughes. HRH Laboratories is now jointly owned by Boeing and General Motors, which explains the Boeing connection.

In the Boeing-produced short film, HRL Laboratories Sophia Yang explains what makes metallic microlattice so special.

Yang refers to microlattice as a “3D open-cellular polymer structure” and compares it to the basic composition of bones. While the outer structure of a bone is rigid and solid, the interior is made up of a largely hollow open-cellular structure.

Bones are both strong and light due to this composition, and microlattice works on the same basic principle. It is made up of 99.99 percent air, so it’s extremely light, but it has remarkable compression properties.

microlattice egg drop experiment

Rather than wrapping an egg in three feet of bubble wrap and then hoping it doesn’t break, Yang says that the egg could be encased in a mesh of microlattice not much larger than the egg itself.

The science behind the construction of microlattice also helps to explain how it can be the lightest metal ever yet still be so strong.

According to Popular Mechanics, metallic microlattice is made through the same basic photolithographic process that is used to create microchips. But instead of the 2D process used to make microchips, HRL uses a 3D process.

microlattice lightest metal ever

According to Business Insider, this process results in a series of hollow, interconnecting tubes with outer walls that are about one-one thousandth the width of a human hair.

This explains how the microlattice is so light, while the interconnected cellular structure explains why it is so strong and resilient.

By sheathing a microlattice in another material, it may be possible to create extremely lightweight components for airplanes and other vehicles. Initially, it could help reduce the weight of aircraft as a construction material for flooring and walls, but the possibilities don’t stop there.

boeing microlattice lightest metal ever

Boeing’s lightest metal ever may also see use in the space part of the aerospace industry, according to the Daily Mail.

HRL Laboratories Doctor Tobias Schaedler told the Daily Mail that microlattice may be combined with carbon fiber composite sheaths for use in spacecraft.

“We are building on our breakthrough invention of ultralight metallic microlattices and will mature this technology to be applied in the next generation of space vehicles,” Dr. Shaedler told the Daily Mail.

Would you fly in a plane with walls made out of the lightest metal ever?

[Screengrabs via YouTube]