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 with extremely low density and low thermal conductivity. Nicknames include frozen smoke, solid smoke, solid air, or blue smoke owing to its translucent nature and the way light scatters in the material. It feels like fragile expanded polystyrene to the touch. Aerogels can be made from a variety of chemical compounds.
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.
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.
Aerogel does not have a designated material with set chemical formula but the term is used to group all the material with a certain geometric structure.
Aerogel is a material that is 98.2% air
Aerogels are good thermal insulators
Chemically treated hydrophobic Aerogels
Aerogels with hydrophobic interiors are less susceptible to degradation than aerogels with only an outer hydrophobic layer, even if a crack penetrates the surface.
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 which spherical 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.
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