Aerogel is a material with the lowest density of any known solid. It is derived from a gel in which the liquid component of the material has been replaced with a gas. It has notable effectiveness as a thermal insulator. It is nicknamed ‘frozen smoke’ due to its translucent nature and the way light scatters in the material; however, it feels like expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) to the touch. Aerogel was invented by Samuel Stephens Kistler in 1931, as a result of a bet with Charles Learned over who could replace the liquid in ‘jellies’ with gas without causing shrinkage. Kistler’s first aerogels were produced from silica gels (his later work was based on alumina, chromia and tin oxide).

Despite their name, aerogels are rigid, dry materials and do not resemble a gel in their physical properties. Pressing softly on an aerogel typically does not leave a mark; pressing more firmly will leave a permanent depression; further pressure will cause it to shatter. Due to its hygroscopic nature, aerogel feels dry and acts as a strong desiccant. Persons handling aerogel for extended periods should wear gloves to prevent the appearance of dry brittle spots on their skin.


One Comment to “Aerogel”

  1. It may be important to note that aerogel would not appear “blue” if it was placed against a white backdrop…due to reyleigh scattering (the same phenomenon that makes the sky blue during the day, and orange at sunset) the monolith would actually appear orange. Aerogel is only blue when held against a dark or black backdrop.

    Also, samples of aerogel can be purchased affordably at or though thinkgeek.

    Hope this helps clarify the appearance of aerogel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.