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Titanium — the stuff of hip implants and aircraft parts — is strong and light. Aluminum is even lighter, but not as strong.

In a lab at the University of Pennsylvania, engineers have created an improbable material that is as strong as titanium while putting aluminum to shame in the weight department.

Called metallic wood, it is light enough to float in water.

The material contains no actual wood, but it is wood-like in the sense of having pores: air spaces in between billions of miniature “struts” of nickel. Magnified thousands of times on a microscope, the material looks like honeycomb.

“It’s like a scaffold,” said James Pikul, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and applied mechanics.

So far, the engineers have made just small squares of the material — each about the size of a postage stamp — but they envision that it could be produced in large enough quantities to make rugged, ultralight exteriors for cell phones and other electronic devices. Depending on the cost, it might be an option for making lightweight, fuel-efficient cars.

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Category: Science