Deep-space probes and scientific devices in Antarctica could soon get a new form of insulation based on synthetic crystals that stop and reflect heat. Such material could eventually lead to the best insulation ever created, even at room temperatures.
The crystals work by manipulating phonons, or vibrational waves that can carry either sound or heat depending on the frequency. Each crystal structure consists of alternating layers of silicon dioxide and a polymer material, so that the spacing between similar layers matches the wavelength of phonons. That allows the material to block and reflect back the phonons in the form of heat.
Most prior research used larger crystals to deal with sound-related phonons, but nanotechnology has given researchers the ability to create the tiny structures necessary to control heat-related phonons.
Phonons reflected by the new material represent low-frequency heat, and so the material only does its insulating trick in sub-freezing temperatures. That means the most immediate applications could involve protecting scientific instruments in an Antarctic environment, or insulating devices on spacecraft operating far from the sun.
But researchers hope to come up with room-temperature variants by thinning the layers that make up the crystal structure -- a necessary step toward reaching the range of a supposedly "perfect insulator" that blocks heat at certain frequency ranges.
The work done by MIT researchers and their colleagues in Germany and Greece has greater possibilities beyond the "perfect insulator." The ability to control phonons could lead to more efficient ways of scavenging phonon-related heat in computers, cell phones and cars to create electricity.
And that's just the beginning, according to Edwin Thomas, a materials scientist and engineer at MIT. He compared the early scientific understanding of phonons with that of understanding electrons and photons behind electricity and light.
Mastering electrons and photons has led to technological innovations that built the modern world and gave us lasers, transistors, photovoltaic cells and microchips. Thomas believes that we may be sitting on the brink of a phonon-driven technological revolution as well.
I wonder if the crystals have any capabilty of being flexible enough to be combined with a synthetic fiber as a layer for insulation purposes. Aside from the pressure requirements, radiation protection, and functional utility needs, less required insulation bulk could mean a more versatile and..... Slimmer space suit.....
Of course..... Cold is not the only temperature variable in space.
so could this one day be used in an economically feasible way to insulate a house?
the above comment looks like a computer-generated text, and I'm guessing the link will provide you with a nice exploit for your unprotected browser.
oh, and popsci, maybe protecting the comments form using a picture verification thingy wont be a bad idea.
exploting the space drives somebody crazy for the earth will blast where humans do not have enough place to stand.
"we may be sitting on the brink of a phonon-driven technological revolution"?!
What does that mean? What sort of technologies could be created with that knowledge?
One has to wonder.
If Carbon Dioxide could be sequestered and converted by binding the Oxygen to Hydrogen in a freezing matrix, and then leave behind a pure carbon Aerogel when the resulting water is freeze dried out of the composit.
This should result in a fairly highly efficent insulator, a way of sequestering Carbon from industrial processes and freeing up the Oxygen in the form of water.
Perhaps it's a dumb idea, but if it works, it would be a better way of handling CO2 issues that pumping it underground or under the ocean.
I think the Chinese have the right idea. Convert the CO2 waste product into a usable product that can be used elsewhere.