Aerogel (sometimes referred to as frozen smoke) is an emerging technology in the material science field that has actually been around for quite a long time. It was initially created by Samuel Stephens Kistler way back in 1931 after he had made a bet with Charles Learned. Apparently they wanted to see who could fill a gelled substance with gas first. Their bet stipulated that the gel couldn’t shrink, and as a result, frozen smoke was created. Technically referred to as aerogel, the substance feels somewhat like fragile styrene and is incredibly light. The substance is produce by first making a gel. The gel is then supercritically dried in such a way that the liquid is removed while preserving the solid matrix.
When evaporation occurs, capillary action prevents the matrix from holding together. This method stops that from happening. Kistler kept working with his aerogel designs, and developed substances that were based around tin dioxide, chromia and alumina. By the 1980s, there were gels consisting of carbon compounds. It seemed like engineers were experimenting with countless different types of gel for all types of applications. Today, various types of aerogels are available including:
Metal Oxide Aerogels
Organic and Carbon Aerogels
Aerogels used with Nanotubes
Only now in the 21st century has this extremely unusual building material become genuinely affordable. Recently it’s been used in a granular form to make skylight insulation, which could help to reduce lighting costs. NASA has used the substance to capture interplanetary dust, and they’ve also used it for space probe and spacesuit insulation as well. In fact, aerogels offer a wide range of unique materials properties that make possible next generation energy-efficiency and scientific applications.
A few creative users have even installed the compound into tennis racquets. However, some truly inventive uses have kept it on the top of the list of emerging technologies. For instance, super fluid helium-3 can become disordered when in the presence of aerogel. Carbon nanotubes can also be used to de-ice aircraft when manufactured from certain types of aerogels.
Arguably the most startling application of the technology is in drug delivery. Aerogels have large surface areas and extremely porous structures. As a result, they can absorb drugs suspended in carbon dioxide. Depending on the type of aerogel in use, the release rate of the drug can be manipulated. Aerogels are biologically compatible, or at least can be made as such. This means that doctors can actually design entire drug systems from the ground up by using frozen smoke.
As long as small particles aren’t inhaled, frozen smoke compounds that contain silica aren’t really considered toxic or carcinogenic. That could encourage physicians to really explore this technology further. Drugs in the cybernetic and transhumanist fields may perhaps only be designed around these compounds, because there are few other options to specifically make them. Regardless, silica compounds are still mechanical irritants so it’s important not to get too carried away with enthusiasm when experimenting with them.
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