Ultra-lightweight Ceramic Withstands Extreme Temperatures

Photo Of New Ceramic Aerogel.
The new ceramic aerogel is so lightweight that it can rest on a flower without damaging it. (Xiangfeng Duan and Xiang Xu/UCLA)

An extremely light, highly durable ceramic aerogel was developed that could ultimately be an upgrade for spacecraft insulation. The new material is made of thin layers of boron nitride with atoms that are connected in hexagon patterns, like chicken wire.

Ordinary ceramic materials usually expand when heated and contract when they are cooled. Over time, those repeated temperature changes can lead those materials to fracture and ultimately fail. The new aerogel was designed to be more durable by doing just the opposite — it contracts rather than expanding when heated.