Like donning a Superman’s cape, fragile carbon nanotube (CNT) aerogels that are covered by a graphene coating can be transformed from a material that easily collapses under compression to one that can resist large amounts of compression and completely recover its original shape after removal of the load. The superelasticity and fatigue resistance provided by the graphene coating could make CNT aerogels useful in a variety of areas, including as electrodes, artificial muscles, and other mechanical structures.
While a normal gel consists mostly of liquid material with a cross-linked network that gives it its solid-like structure, an aerogel is created by replacing the liquid material in a gel with a gas. Researchers do this by drying the original gel at a critical temperature. The resulting aerogel is a lightweight material made of 99.9% air by volume, yet one that is also dry, rigid, and strong like a solid.