A CalTech scientist and her team just announced the development of one of the strongest and lightest materials ever created. It's light enough to float like a feather, and so uniquely strong, it can be crushed and completely recover its shape. And—get this—it's made of ceramic.

The combination of features is made possible by building criss-cross lattices (think: Eiffel Tower struts) on a microscopic scale. The so-called nanostructured ceramics then behave like a completely new material that could be used to build ultralight planes or battery electrodes. The trick to building ceramics that don't shatter like dinner plates is making the latticed tubes in the structure thin enough that they can bend and recover. Turns out that is super tiny, about 10 nanometers thick, like the structure picture on the top row below. The structure on the bottom features wider tubes and clearly does not bounce back.

"You don't expect these materials to recover—you expect them to be brittle and to fracture," Christopher Spadaccini, an engineer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, told the MIT Technology Review. And yet they do. Now, the trick will be coming up with a way to construct the material in an economical fashion. As graphene has taught us, wonder materials are only truly wonderful when the world can afford them. [Science via TechReview]

Images via Science