Fluffy dandelion seeds are so light that by applying one small wisp of air we can send them into disarray. Now researchers have invented a new ultralight material--the lightest in the world--where an entire structure made out of it balances on a dandelion head without crushing a single seed.

Scientists at UC Irvine, HRL laboratories, have dubbed their invention ultralight metallic microlattice, which they claim is 100 times lighter than Styrofoam. In the Nov.18 issue of Science, the researchers explain that their structure, which falls as lightly as a feather, consists of 99.99 percent of air. The remaining 0.01 solids that remain are the microlattice tubes that make up the cellular architecture.

The trick is to fabricate a lattice of interconnected hollow tubes with a wall thickness 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, said lead author Dr. Tobias Schaedler of HRL.  

This particular structure consists of 90 per cent nickel, but according to the researchers it can be made out of other substances as well. The architecture of the material allowed an unprecedented behavioral pattern for the metal resulting in extraordinarily high-energy absorption, but according to a UCI engineer, Lorenzo Valdevit, materials actually get stronger when reduced to nanoscale.

Picture the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, but on a nano and micro sale. These buildings are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architecture, according to William Carter, manager of the architected material group at HRL. We are revolutionizing lightweight material by bringing this concept to the nano scale, he said.

Researchers, who developed the structure for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, say that the material could be used for battery electrodes and acoustic vibration or shock energy absorption.