Microlattice: Metal That's 100 Times Lighter than Styrofoam

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I worked with a guy almost ten years ago who was building protoypes of material insanely similar for use in submarine and warship doors. Unfortunately while he was an excellent engineer, he was… Eccentric.

I don’t think we will see lattice structures in cost conscious products in my lifetime, but in weight or range conscious designs? It is a no brainer.


I take issue with calling this the “lightest metal.” Metals are the base materials, and their mass is irrespective of the large-scale structures we form with them.


metal aerogel? man I can think of a zillion ideas for stuff like that, depending upon actual performance/properties
does it scale?

Metal aerogels are a fairly new class of materials. Pretty fascinating, I’d say.

Check especially the combustion syntheses.

Using combustion of thermite-like compositions is a fun way to make stuff.


That video was super edited.

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I was thinking about it the other way around. If you could build a lattice like this of magnesium, it’d probably burn spectacularly. Does nickle go up like Mg at a higher temp?


I’d say yes. Powdered metals frequently burn with ease, even those who are nonflammable at all in bulk. (Some metals are flammable in bulk in air, like magnesium; some need oxygen atmosphere, like aluminium, aluminium-body oxygen valves can explode under some conditions because of this. Some will burn when finely powdered, a few won’t burn at all.)

If you want to see burning iron, pyrophoric iron can be prepared with ease.

A microlattice is a thin metal foil, I suppose the surface-volume ratio may be high enough to facilitate burning.

Raney nickel can be pyrophoric, this is reportedly because of an adsorbed layer of hydrogen. Nickel microlattices may have somewhat similar properties, though to quite lower extent.

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in 3d printing people are already using this technique to save on material and printing time.

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i’m not being rude, but decades ago these techniques were being used. the novelness is in the fabrication technique, strength, cost, and materials. it is an obvious strategy for strength and weight.

OK, how does one build a metal microlattice?

Energetic materials. See @Shaddack’s link above.

Combustion synthesis is more about metal aerogels.

For microlattices you can 3d-print plastic, then deposit metal, then dissolve or burn the plastic matrix. Another possibility of making the plastic structure is using self-propagating waveguides in a liquid photopolymer (an interesting technique).


Domestic steel wool can be made to burn quite easily.


Quite so. You can start a fire with steel wool and a battery. I prefer a 9V, but I’ve seen it done with AAs.

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IIRC Mister Wizard started a fire in steel wool simply by pouring a bit of water in it. At a certain critical mass, the heat of its rapid oxidation is sufficient for it to combust.


I would love to see that in action. Genuinely.

Do you have some kind of source?

ETA - I wanna know how!

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I saw it on the television show “Mr.Wizard’s World” about thirty years ago.


Try using salt water.

Those heating plasters used for alleviating back pain are usually made of iron powder with added chloride and some water. Tear off the protective foil, let oxygen diffuse in; the reaction releases noticeable amount of heat.

Same trick is used for those oxygen scavenger packs.

Rusting can eat oxygen pretty fast. There are cases when workers checked oxygen content in a vessel before entering it, and all was okay. A few hours later rusting ate oxygen and on repeated entry the workers suffocated. I don’t remember if they survived. I think it was Trevor Kletz - What Went Wrong - case studies of process plant disasters. Excellent bedtime reading.


I think you need a peroxide as well. Otherwise the rate isn’t enough to get it really going the way @slybevel describes.(I think.)

ETA: Actually @popobawa4u described it.