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A new, nearly weightless insulation material can withstand extreme heat that would destroy other materials.

The porous aerogel is at least 99 percent open space, with the rest made up of an atomically thin ceramic called hexagonal boron nitride. The design proves extremely durable under high temperatures and rapid temperature shifts of over 1,000 degrees Celsius, researchers report in the Feb. 15 Science.

“It’s notoriously hard to make materials that are not just lightweight, but can also be heavily heat resistant,” says Deep Jariwala, an engineer at the University of Pennsylvania who coauthored a commentary on the study in the same issue of Science. The new ultralight insulator may be especially well suited to shielding components on spacecraft, which must endure extreme temperature swings when turning toward or away from the sun or re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, he says.

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Category: Science