Researchers develop ultra light aluminium that floats on water for use in future spacecraft and automobiles

Researchers restructured the metal at the molecular level using computational modelling to design an ultra-light crystalline form of aluminium.

Scientists have designed an ultra-light form of aluminium that floats on water, paving the way for novel uses of the material in future spacecraft and automobiles. In its conventional form, aluminium is denser than water. An aluminium spoon will a sink to the bottom if thrown in water. Researchers from the Utah State University (USU) in the US restructured the common household metal at the molecular level using computational modelling to design an ultra-light crystalline form of aluminium that's lighter than water.

Researchers develop ultra light aluminium that floats on water for use in future spacecraft and automobiles

Alex Boldyrev. Image: USU

The team's calculations confirmed such a structure is a new, metastable, lightweight form of crystal aluminium. The material has a density of only 0.61 gramme per cubic centimetre, in contrast to convention aluminiums density of 2.7 grammes per cubic centimetre. "That means the new crystallised form will float on water, which has a density of one gram per cubic centimetre," said Alexander Boldyrev, from USU.

Such a property opens a whole new realm of possible applications for the non-magnetic, corrosive-resistant, abundant, relatively inexpensive and easy-to-produce metal. "Spaceflight, medicine, wiring and more lightweight, more fuel-efficient automotive parts are some applications that come to mind," Boldyrev said. "Of course, its very early to speculate about how this material could be used. There are many unknowns. For one thing, we don't know anything about its strength," he said.

However, the breakthrough discovery marks a novel way of approaching material design. "An amazing aspect of this research is the approach: using a known structure to design a new material," Boldyrev said. The study was published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

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