When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call “nanocardboard,” an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square centimeter of nanocardboard weighs less than a thousandth of a gram and can spring back into shape after being bent in half.
Nanocardboard is made out of an aluminum oxide film with a thickness of tens of nanometers, forming a hollow plate with a height of tens of microns. Its sandwich structure, similar to that of corrugated cardboard, makes it more than ten thousand times as stiff as a solid plate of the same mass.
Nanocardboard’s stiffness-to-weight ratio makes it ideal for aerospace and microrobotic applications, where every gram counts. In addition to unprecedented mechanical properties, nanocardboard is a supreme thermal insulator, as it mostly consists of empty space.
Future work will explore an intriguing phenomenon that results from a combination of properties: shining a light on a piece of nanocardboard allows it to levitate. Heat from the light creates a difference in temperatures between the two sides of the plate, which pushes a current of air molecules out through the bottom.
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Filed Under: Materials • advanced