For those among us who gobble up news about extreme materials the way others gobble up Cheetos, this is exciting news. Many have already heard of aerogels. Aerogels are silicon based materials that are lighter than air, and thus provide excellent insulative properties. While this is pretty neat, scientists have invented something even better.
Using carbon nanotubes, scientists have cooked up an material that is six times lighter than air. Unlike other aerogels, the carbon construction makes it an excellent conductor, both of heat and electricity. It is incredibly strong, extremely compressible, and superhydrophobic. All of these properties make it an intriguing material for computers and structural material.
What are some of the possible applications for such stuff? The incredible surface area to volume ratio means they could be used to fashion incredibly energy dense batteries or capacitors, while being very light. In the near term, such batteries would be ideal for electronics, as energy density is crucial, and low mass is preferable.
Since the material is highly conductive, it could be vacuum deposited onto a plastic substrate, essentially allowing one to make plastic wires. As plastics are much cheaper than copper, lighter weight, and noncorrosive, this is a huge improvement in wire technology. You could theoretically deposit the material on threads, building electrically conductive clothing. This could mean comfortable, cheap clothes that can protect the wearer against electrical surges by acting as a Faraday cage. Electricians would doubtless approve.
With tiny pores and a large surface area, this material could make an ideal air filter as well. Sheets of it could be added to ducts, filtering out toxins and particulates. The electrical conductivity could be used to send a small current through the filters, which would attract small particulates. Later, a much larger current could be generated to vaporize the captured material and clean the filter.
This material is still in the beta stage, so it will be awhile before we see it in commercial products.