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Aerogels make cool insulators.

Sometimes known as solid smoke, the ultralight materials called aerogels are showing promise as insulators (SN: 11/17/90, p. 316). In fact, carbon-based aerogels made with resorcinol-formaldehyde can insulate better than any other material known, Xianping Lu of the University of Wurzburg in Germany and his colleagues report in the Feb. 21 Science.

The researchers tested the insulating potential of several of these red, gossamer solids by placing a platinum wire through a small sample of each, passing an electrical current through each wire and then measuring how hot the wires got.

The results show that the aerogel consisting of 88 percent air conducts one-third as much heat as a typical polyurethane foam insulator. The aerogel's many tiny pores make it difficult for trapped air to move and carry heat away from the wire, says Richard W. Pekala, who helped develop aerogels at the Lawrence Livermore (Calif.) National Laboratory.

These materials could replace insulating foams made from chlorofluorocarbons, but first scientists must develop ways to make large quantities cheaply, Pekala notes.
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Title Annotation:Science & Society
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 14, 1992
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