What is the lightest solid ever made

International conference on the “lightest solid” in the world at the TUHH


Light, lighter, aerogels: 150 scientists from all over the world are coming to the “International Seminar on Aerogels” (ISA) at the Technical University of Hamburg (TUHH) on October 6th and 7th. Airgel is an extraordinary material: it is the lightest solid in the world and holds 14 entries in the Guiness Book of Records, including the best insulator and the lowest density solid. At the TUHH Institute for Thermal Process Engineering, a group led by Professor Irina Smirnova is researching the ultra-light material and this week welcomes colleagues from all over the world to the conference, which takes place every two years.

The production of aerogels is currently time consuming and costly. The question of how the manufacturing process can be simplified and optimized is therefore an important topic of discussion at the conference. Another central topic is the production of aerogels from different new starting materials and thus innovative properties. The main focus here is on low thermal conductivity, high mechanical stability, biocompatibility and, of course, a large surface. The main speakers at this year's ISA are Professor Nicholas Leventis, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Professor Nicola Hüsing, University of Salzburg, Professor Lorenz Ratke, German Aerospace Center, and Dr. Matthias Koebel, Empa - Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. Representatives from BASF, Aspen Aerogels, Separex, Aspen Technologies and NanoHighTech are also invited to the conference to present the aerogels and similar materials they produce. “We are very proud that Germany is one of the leading locations in airgel research. One of the goals of this year's conference is to strengthen international cooperation in the field of aerogels, ”says Prof. Smirnova.

Aerogels are solids with a very high porosity - this makes aerogels the perfect insulation material. The pores give the material an enormous inner surface: the area of ​​one gram of airgel corresponds to around 1000 m2. Depending on the chemical structure, the aerogels can be either brittle or elastic.

Aerogels can be made from a wide variety of materials, such as silica, metals or organic substances. The raw material is dissolved in water and alcohol. During the drying process, gas is supplied under high pressure so that the airgel does not collapse. This creates a porous and translucent material, which because of its appearance is also called "frozen smoke".

Due to their extraordinary properties, aerogels can be used in a variety of ways: The US space agency NASA uses aerogels as insulating materials for space probes due to their extremely low thermal conductivity. As early as 1997, an airgel protected the sensitive electronics of the Mars rover "Sojourner" from the icy temperatures on the neighboring planet. Their environmentally friendly and non-toxic properties also enable them to be used in the pharmaceutical industry. The large surface area and open pore structure of the aerogels make them an ideal carrier material for medication.

Contact Person

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Irina Smirnova

Institute for Thermal Process Engineering (V-8)

Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg

Eissendorfer Strasse 38

21073 Hamburg

Tel .: +49 40 428 78 30 40

Fax: +49 40 428 78 40 72

Email: [email protected]

TUHH press office