Dr. Nicholas Leventis, professor of chemistry at the University of Missouri-Rolla, is one of 15 innovators included in the 2007 Nano 50 Awards presented by Nanotech Briefs magazine, the publication announced Thursday, June 14. Leventis is being recognized for his groundbreaking research in the development of polymer cross-linked aerogels.
The annual Nano 50 awards recognize the top 50 technologies, products and innovators that have significantly influenced – or are expected to influence – the state of the art in nanotechnology.
Leventis’ specialty is in cross-linked aerogels, a breakthrough material that is an extremely sturdy, lightweight combination of highly porous glass and plastic that per pound is four to five times tougher than materials currently used in military armor. (View video comparison of conventional armor material and cross-linked aerogel. Video courtesy of Hongbing Lu, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, at Oklahoma State University.)
Although lightweight, aerogels were not of much use historically because they were very brittle. Leventis and his associates developed a way to improve the strength of these materials by cross-linking, or bonding together chemically, strings of nano-sized glass particles with common polymers like polyurethane, polystyrene and epoxy. Like earlier aerogels, the resulting material was extremely lightweight, but the new chemical approach created aerogels that were 100 times more resistant to breakage and totally resistant to moisture.
Leventis’s aerogel composite materials have possible military applications as stronger, lighter material for body armor, armored vehicles and run-flat tires. The material can also store liquid fuel, making it useful for safer, more impact-resistant fuel tanks for aircraft and fuel transport vehicles.
In addition to their strength and light weight, aerogels feature lots of empty space between their nanoscopic strings of glass-like nanoparticles that give them a high resistance to heat transfer and high acoustic impedance. This leads to promising applications in lightweight thermal insulation for use in insulated windows, refrigerators and cryogenic tanks.
Leventis believes other possible applications range from tiny but sturdy drug-delivery vehicles to acoustic insulation, filtration membranes, optical sensors, fuel cell membranes and aircraft structural components, like lighter, more efficient frames for aircraft and spacecraft.
Leventis’s work with aerogels is currently funded through a three-year $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Leventis will receive the Nano 50 Award during the 2007 NASA Tech Briefs National Nano Engineering Conference to be held in Boston Nov. 14-15. Leventis will also present a talk on his aerogel research during the conference.