Aerogel is a substance in solid form whose liquid component has been replaced by gas. It consists of 99.8 per cent air despite being in solid form, giving it the nickname "frozen smoke." Aerogels have a wide array of different uses, even though most of these involve high-tech engineering and science; commercial uses have been developed as well.
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Uses In Space
Aerogel has played a role in many NASA missions. At first it was used to insulate rovers for exploring the surface of Mars. The temperature on Mars can range from -140 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius, resulting in damage and stress to electronics. Using aerogel as an insulator increased the lifespans of Mars rovers. The same insulation process is used on space suits for astronauts. Another important area is its use in space dust collectors. These dust collectors use aerogel panels to gather dust from comets to be studied by scientists.
Hydrophobic silica aerogels repel water and are good at absorbing all other substances that repel water, including oil. Because of this feature, special aerogel blankets and powder are made and used in cleanups of oil spills. aerogel can clean up spills from rivers, oceans and even factory floors.
Scientists are working to create window insulation from aerogel. This will be available for consumers in ten to twenty years and is expected to become very popular as it will reduce heat loss from windows by up to 99 per cent. Although this technique is not yet widely used because it is very difficult to produce monolithic window-size pieces of silica aerogel, there are a few pioneers that practice it. Airglass AB is a Swedish company that has made limited number of silica aerogel windows.
When Aerogel was first created, it was widely used in thickening different commercial products, including cosmetics, paint and napalm. The first company to market Areogel to consumers was Monsanto. But the process was very time-consuming, expensive and even dangerous; thus, Monsanto discontinued using this material after producing it since the 1970s. After a few years, scientists developed a method of making aerogel in a less toxic and faster way, creating the opportunity of mass production and using it in many different products, such as wet suits, skylights, paints, cosmetics, firefighter suits and nuclear weapons.
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