Metal made of air sounds like a material from a science fiction film that will never cross the boundaries of reality.
However, Boeing has unveiled the 'world's lightest material', describing it as a metal that is 99.9 percent air.
The aerospace manufacturer emphasised the metal's remarkable weightlessness with an image of it precariously resting on a dandelion. Impressive.
Experts say the inspiration for the metal lattice is human bone, which maintains its strength despite being hollow on the inside.
"The entire structure was basically 99.99 percent air," research scientist Sophia Yang said.
The rigid external structure of human bone is supported by an internal open cellular structure that allows it to retain its structure under pressure while still being lightweight.
Translating this anatomical feature into an artificial material involved building a 3D "micro-lattice" also formed of hollow tubes.
The wall of each tube is 1,000 times thinner than human hair allowing it to keep its lightweight as well as it metallic properties
“The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness of 100 nanometers, 1,000 times thinner than a human hair,” said lead author Dr. Tobias Schaedler of HRL Laboratories.
Researchers say the material could change what aeroplanes are built out of and could allow aircrafts to be more fuel efficient in the future.
In a video for Boeing, Yang stated that she envisions onboard luggage carriers being built from the new metal.
The research will also be applied to NASA spacecrafts sent for deep space exploration.