Scientists from Utah State University and Southern Federal University have built a model that shows it is possible to create a form of aluminum that is less dense that water, new research published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry C reports.
Aluminum is one of the more unique metals on Earth. It is conductive, has a low melting point, does not rust, and, most importantly, it is extremely light. However, the team in the new study believes there is a way to make it even lighter.
To show this, researchers used computational design to conceive a new form of crystalline aluminium that has an extremely low density.
“They started with a known crystal lattice, in this case, a diamond, and substituted every carbon atom with an aluminium tetrahedron,” explained study co-author Alexander Boldyrev, a researcher at Utah State University, according to Eureka.
That process eventually allowed the scientists to build a model for a crystalline aluminium known as supertetrahedral aluminium. The substance has a density of just 0.61 grams per cubic centimeter, a fraction of the density of normal aluminum.
That low density means a lump of the new substance could float on top of water. While that property could be useful, there are many more applications for such an ultra-light aluminum. For instance, it could help scientists build cheaper rockets for space travel, and could also lead to more fuel-efficient automotive parts.
However, as the aluminum is only hypothetical at this point, there are still many questions that need to be answered before it can be put into use.
“It’s very early to speculate about how this material could be used,” added Boldyrev, according to Science Alert. “There are many unknowns. For one thing, we don’t know anything about its strength.”
Even so, the new model is the first step towards the new material. Researchers next plan to physically produce the substance so they can study it further.