Double-negative-index ceramic aerogels for thermal superinsulation

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Science  15 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6428, pp. 723-727
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav7304

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Elastic ceramics

Aerogels hold promise as lightweight replacements for thermal insulation. However, poor mechanical stability has hampered progress in moving toward commercialization. Xu et al. designed a mechanical metamaterial that pinches in a small amount when you compress it (see the Perspective by Chhowalla and Jariwala). This is characteristic of materials with a negative Poisson's ratio and dramatically improves mechanical stability. The trick was using three-dimensional graphene structures to template the ceramic aerogels, thus producing a superinsulating material endowed with excellent mechanical properties.

Science, this issue p. 723; see also p. 694


Ceramic aerogels are attractive for thermal insulation but plagued by poor mechanical stability and degradation under thermal shock. In this study, we designed and synthesized hyperbolic architectured ceramic aerogels with nanolayered double-pane walls with a negative Poisson’s ratio (−0.25) and a negative linear thermal expansion coefficient (−1.8 × 10−6 per °C). Our aerogels display robust mechanical and thermal stability and feature ultralow densities down to ~0.1 milligram per cubic centimeter, superelasticity up to 95%, and near-zero strength loss after sharp thermal shocks (275°C per second) or intense thermal stress at 1400°C, as well as ultralow thermal conductivity in vacuum [~2.4 milliwatts per meter-kelvin (mW/m·K)] and in air (~20 mW/m·K). This robust material system is ideal for thermal superinsulation under extreme conditions, such as those encountered by spacecraft.

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