Boeing’s microlattice: The lightest metal ever

The above picture isn’t your typical far fetched concept image, Boeing’s latest invention really is light enough to balance on top of a dandelion. The ‘microlattice’ is the world’s lightest metal structure, and is made up of thousands of tiny tubes that are 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, giving it a structure that’s 99.9% air.

It’s 100 times stronger than styrofoam, and Boeing claim that it would enable an egg thrown from 25 storeys to remain undamaged after it hit the ground. What’s even more impressive is that this could be done with only a few layers of the microlattice; it would take many metres of bubble wrap to provide the same level of protection.

Boeing's microlattice: The lightest metal ever
The micro lattice’s design was partly based on the structure of our bones


Its 3D open-cellular polymer structure is very similar to the structure of our bones, which was actually one of the inspirations for the micro lattice’s design. The outside of our bones is very rigid, but on the inside it’s mostly hollow. This provides an open cellular structure preventing them from being easily crushed, yet lightweight at the same time.

As well as having an ultra-low density, this material can recover from compression exceeding 50% strain and also is able to absorb an incredible amount of energy.

Potential Applications

Boeing’s microlattice is likely to be premiered in planes, probably in the form of lighter flooring, seat frames and walls. This would provide improved fuel efficiency for planes around the world, leading to huge savings for airlines. The firm is also working with NASA on future spacecraft designs, while the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) believe the material could work very well in energy dampening.

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