A group of scientists have engineered a new form of "frozen smoke" that could potentially detect pollutants, store energy, and improve robotic surgeries. Frozen smoke is popular term used for aerogel, a manufactured material originally created in 1931 by Samuel Stephen Kistler, which has the lowest bulk density of any known porous solid. In fact, aerogel holds 15 titles in the Guiness Book of World Records, including 'best insulator' and 'lowest density solid'.
The current team of researchers including Professor Lei Zhai and Jianhua Zou have been able to use nanotubes to add some practical uses to aerogel. A press release from the University of Central Florida explains how these improvements allow the material to detect the slightest changes in pressure, making it perfect for robot hands used in precise surgical procedures. The nanotubes also increase the material's surface area, which enhances its ability to store renewable energy.
Although some skeptics question the safety nanotechnology, new advancements continue surrounding aerogel. Zhai thinks his innovations are just the tip of the iceberg and said "This has many potential applications and could really open up new areas to explore that we haven't even imagined yet."