Aerogels, first invented in 1931, currently have a glaring limitation—they're too brittle. Researchers have tapped one of the oldest building materials known to man as a possible solution to this: cellulose, the substance that helps make plants solid. They first soaked cellulose in a solution containing iron sulfate and cobalt chloride nanoparticles, with the chemical sticking to the cellulose fibers. They then removed all the moisture by freeze-drying it, leaving behind a lightweight, porous matrix of solid fibers that can twist and bend easily—while retaining its strength.
The researchers have identified two applications for these new and improved aerogels. Removing most of the air inside a block by crushing it would result in a thin, magnetic 'nanopaper' that can support up to four hundred thousand pounds per square inch. The aerogel can also be used as a very efficient sponge. Since by volume the aerogel is 99 percent air, a 60-milligram piece of the aerogel can hold about a gram of water.
Since the materials used are common and cheap, we may start seeing this new aerogel on the market soon.
via Popular Science