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As far as aerogels go, most people who know anything about material science are familiar with their amazing properties. They’ve been around since the 1930s, after all, and are pretty well-known. But even those who know all about what aerogels can do might be surprised to learn that there’s now a new – and even more incredible – type of aerogel. It came about when a team of researchers combined an aerogel with cellulose and came up with a material that’s super-strong, flexible, amazingly absorbent, lightweight, and can even be crushed into a flat magnetic “nanopaper.” In short, it combines the best properties of cellulose (a natural compound) and aerogel (a manufactured material) to create a completely new kind of material with tons of possibilities. The researchers were looking for a way to get around the characteristic stiffness and brittleness of aerogels. They accomplished that by soaking cellulose in a solution of two metal compounds and then freeze-drying it, removing all of the moisture to leave a very porous aerogel. But unlike other aerogels, this one is flexible enough to be folded in half. And when most of the air is crushed out of it, it becomes a flat piece of magnetic “nanopaper” that can support an astounding four hundred thousand pounds per square inch. And it’s able to absorb a respectable amount of water before being wrung out and popping right back into shape.
And it’s able to absorb a respectable amount of water before being wrung out and popping right back into shape.