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Researchers develop light nanofoam that is more resistant to impact

Engineers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are developing a type of nanofoam that may one day provide better structural integrity for buildings compare to current conventional foam material.

The nanofoams are made of porous, honeycomb-like, structures that are light, and are reportedly able to absorb impacts in a much less localized manner; therefore, minimizing the amount of damage suffered.  Currently, the UCSD researchers are trying to determine the most optimal pore size to absorb energy from impacts, with sizes that range from 10 nanometers to 10 microns.

(Porous silica depicted at various magnifications.)

“We are developing nanofoams that help disperse the force of an impact over a wider area,” said Yu Qiao, professor of structural engineering at UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering.  “They will appear to be less rigid but will actually more resistant than ordinary foams.”

Much like how engineers have developed cars that can spread out the absorption of energy during impact, the nanofoam material is essentially the same concept—except this is on a nano scale.  Qiao and his colleagues are currently manufacturing the nanofoam material in his lab.  Working on a molecular level, the team first blends two materials together, and then using “acid etching” or combustion to remove one of the two materials to create “channels” within the nanofoam. 

The project is being funded by the Army Research Office, and Qiao is hoping that with enough progress the team can begin applying similar principles to test metallic and polymeric nanomaterials.


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