World's oldest insect inspires a new generation of aerogels
by Staff Writers
Newcastle UK (SPX) Apr 26, 2018
A team of international scientists have created a new form of highly-efficient, low-cost insulation based on the wings of a dragonfly.
The material, known as an aerogel, is the most porous material known to man and ultralight, with a piece the size of a family car weighing less than a kilogram.
Starting out as a wet silica gel, similar in structure to jelly, the material is carefully dried to create a strong, porous material. But until now, removing the water molecules without collapsing the fine silica structure has been a long, difficult and expensive process and as a consequence, the use of aerogels has been limited to a few highly specialist tasks, such as the collection of stardust in space.
Now a team of experts led by Newcastle University, UK, has managed to cheaply replicate the process by mimicking the way in which the dragonfly dries out its wings.
Instead of drying the silica under high temperature and pressure, the team used bicarbonate of soda (the same used to make cakes rise) to 'blow' out the water molecules, trapping carbon dioxide gas in the pores.
Publishing their findings in the academic journal Advanced Materials, the team say the next step will be to scale up the process to create larger panels that can be used to insulate our homes and buildings.
Dr Lidija Siller, joint lead author and a nanoscale scientist at Newcastle University who worked on the research with Dr Xiao Han, Khalil Hassan and Dr Adrian Oila, also of Newcastle University, explains:
"The potential of this discovery in terms of reducing energy use and therefore our energy bills is really exciting.
"Aerogels are an amazing material - safe, light and ten times more insulating than what we are using now - but until now they have been out of reach for the majority of us because they are so expensive to make. Our research is a step towards making them widely available."
Learning from nature
"These ancient insects were around long before the dinosaurs evolved," explains Dejan Kulijer, from the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"They are one of the oldest insect groups to take flight and include the largest insect that ever lived - the Griffenfly - that had a wingspan of more than 70 cm."
Their wings are a porous, layered structure similar to an aerogel and are so strong and light they can carry the insect up to 30 miles in an hour.
"A dragonfly's wings are an ultralight aerogel - making up less than 2% of the insect's total body weight - and yet they are so strong they can carry the insect thousands of miles across oceans and between continents," says Dr Siller, who worked on the research together with colleagues from Newcastle University, Durham University and Limerick University, Ireland, as well as experts from the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Most of its lifecycle, the dragonfly spends underwater in its larval stage (a period ranging from 30 days to several years). The change from larva to the adult flying insect represents irreversible changes in morphology and physiology. This process of metamorphosis can take between 20 min up to several hours, depending on the species. When the dragonfly emerges from its larval skin, its wings are like jelly but within a very short time they expand and harden to become completely dry.
"To achieve this, their bodies produce bicarbonate molecules which release carbon dioxide gas that regulates body pressure and dries wings at the same time. This 'blows' out the water to leave a dry, stable, light and strong structure.
"We replicated this process in the lab with the aerogel, blowing out the water at ambient temperature and with sodium bicarbonate."
Their insulating properties and robustness against ageing, moisture and perforation make them ideal materials for insulation in buildings but until now the high cost of production has limited their use.
By adding bicarbonate solvents into the silica gels and utilising an innovative chemical process, the team forced the production of carbon dioxide to dry out the gel from the inside out. At the same time, the CO2 is trapped in the delicate structure, preventing the collapse of the aerogel.
Joint lead author Dr Xiao Han, Newcastle University, said the new technique would reduce the cost of production by 96% - from around $100 to $4 per kilogram.
"Just like a dragonfly's wings, our aerogel material is made up of ultra-thin layers of silica which means we can create a stronger structure. The next step will be to scale up the process to produce panels of the insulation that can be used in homes and buildings to help reduce our energy use and ultimately, our bills."
Watching nanomaterials form in 4-D
Evanston IL (SPX) Apr 26, 2018
When famed physicists Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska first introduced the transmission electron microscope (TEM) in 1933, it allowed researchers to peer inside cells, microorganisms and particles that were once too small to study. For decades, these high-powered instruments had been limited to taking static snapshots of specimens, which only tell part of the story. Now researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Florida are filling in the blanks to make this story more complete. ... read more
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.|