From biowaste to feather-light insulators

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


While working on the magic system for my novel Civil Mage, which I recently described as "a screed about the importance of basic infrastructure reform and the evils of NIMBYism," my husband suggested I base the magic material off of aerogels, which necessitated quite a lot of interesting research.

Fun Facts

  • Aerogel is a synthetic material that is solid to the touch, although it's mostly air with only about 1% microporous silica.
  • Silica aerogels are light, porous foams with extremely low density and thermal conductivity.
  • Because silica aerogels are typically quite brittle, they are usually reinforced with fibers for large-scale applications.
  • Aerogel is translucent enough to let visible light through while blocking harmful radiation.
  • It's possible to make carbon aerogels out of the biomass waste from jackfruit and durian.

The Process

Silica aerogels are the lightest type of solid in the world, but aerogels can be made out of eggs and rubber, too. It's even possible to make them at home (although it's very difficult). Most aerogel blankets, particles, and monoliths are based on silica aerogel, which is made of synthetic amorphous silica and is non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. [Read More]

3D Printing

Aerogels can be printed in a variety of configurations, which allows for thermal insulation of even small electronics parts, or the creation of beautiful, light, translucent artwork. [Read More]

In Space

Because they're so light, aerogels are incredibly useful for insulating things in space, and upon re-entry into the atmosphere. Polymer-based aerogels are even flexible enough to create a film over space suits. [Read More]

Water Ways

Hierarchically structured aerogels can use capillary action to push dirty water upwards for the sun to evaporate, producing steam that can be siphoned off as fresh, clean potable water. [Read More]

If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my tips for leveraging trees in speculative fiction.


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