aerogel, any of a group of extremely light and porous solid materials; the lightest is less than four times as dense as dry air. Aerogels are produced from certain gels (see colloid) by heating the gel under pressure, which causes the liquid in the gel to become supercritical (in a state between a liquid and a gas) and lose its surface tension. In this state, the liquid may be removed from the gel by applying additional heat, without disrupting the porous network formed by the gel's solid component. The resulting aerogels are typically about 95–99% air. Aerogels have been produced from silica and other metal oxides, organic polymers, carbon, and other materials. Silica-based aerogels are among the lightest, and some, nicknamed
frozen smoke,are nearly transparent. Heavier aerogels were first developed in 1931 and have been used to detect high-energy particles emitted by particle accelerators. Newer, lighter aerogels with relatively high insulating properties are used as insulation in a range of applications; other aerogels are being used in filtration and adsorption applications and as catalysts or carriers for catalysts.
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