Hyperbolic 3D architectures with 2D ceramics

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Science  15 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6428, pp. 694-695
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw5670

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Materials that operate in extreme environments, such as aerospace applications that require operation at high temperatures and in reactive atmospheres, must be ultralight, very mechanically strong, and thermally insulating. Achieving such disparate functionalities requires rational design not only of the material itself but also of hierarchical structures at multiple length scales that can respond in the desired way to extreme environmental factors in real time. On page 723 of this issue, Xu et al. (1) report the synthesis of a multifunctional structure with hyperbolic surfaces (saddle shapes with negative curvature) in the form of an aerogel where the solid medium is a network of atomically thin sheets of hexagonal boron nitride (hBN). By careful mechanical design of the microstructure, the authors report that their aerogels exhibit extraordinary mechanical and thermal resistance properties far superior to those of current aerogels. Their discovery opens new pathways for the integration of rationally designed ultralightweight materials with the correct combination of mechanical and thermal properties for a variety of extreme environments.