After three years of trying, the engineers at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering and Applied Science have succeeded in creating a new type of material they've dubbed 'metallic wood.'
The new material, a lattice of nanoscale nickel struts, has high strength-to-density ratio akin to wood from trees which are strong enough to grow hundreds of feet tall but light enough to float on water.
In the image above, a strip of metallic wood about 1 inch long and one-third inch wide (2.5 cm by 0.8 cm) is thinner than household aluminum foil but is capable of supporting 50 times its own weight without buckling. If the weight was suspended from it, the same strip could support more than 6 lb (2.7 lg) without breaking.
The key to the metallic wood's success is the precise spacing of the nanolattic and avoiding cracks when the material is being manufactured.
"Our new manufacturing approach allows us to make porous metals that are three times stronger than previous porous metals at similar relative density and 1,000 times larger than other nanolattices," said professor James Pikul. "We plan to use these materials to make a number of previously impossible devices, which we are already using as membranes to separate biomaterials in cancer diagnostics, protective coatings, and flexible sensors."