A Whole New Aluminum

The aluminum we have at our disposal will sink when placed in water, but a team of researchers from Utah State University (USU) and the Southern Federal University (SFU) in Russia have developed a new type of aluminum that's far lighter than what we typically use; in fact, it's actually lighter than water.

Using computational modeling, the team started with a diamond and set out to replace every carbon atom with an aluminum tetrahedron. Their efforts resulted in a new crystalline aluminum called supertetrahedral aluminum that has a density of 0.61 gram per cubic centimeter. For comparison, traditional aluminum has a density of 2.7 grams per cubic centimeter.

"My colleagues' approach to this challenge was very innovative," said USU chemist and researcher Alexander Boldyrev, who went on to explain the new material "will float on water, which has a density of one gram per cubic centimeter.”

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Practical Applications

The new aluminum's ability to float on water, while nice, isn't the only benefit the material brings. According to Boldyrev, it can also be used for "spaceflight, medicine, wiring and more lightweight, more fuel-efficient automotive parts.” ScienceAlert notes lightweight aluminum used in spaceflight applications would be extremely useful, as it could reduce the overall cost and difficulty with launching a rocket.

The team hasn't actually produced the material yet — so there's no telling how strong it is or how much it would cost to produce. The research, published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry C, provides an invaluable first step to its creation.

“An amazing aspect of this research is the approach: using a known structure to design a new material,” added Boldyrev. “This approach paves the way for future discoveries.”

It'll be interesting to see how the strength of the lighter aluminum compares to that of the 3D printed aluminum detailed earlier this month. Like Boldrev's research, the 3D printed material is not only said to be cheaper that regular aluminum, but faster to create.

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