Back in the day at the Pratt ID studios, a truck would occasionally pull up, front-loaded with raw materials. If you were in the vicinity of the shop manager when this happened, you'd often be pressed into service to help unload stuff and manhandle it up to the fifth floor. Worst thing to unload: 4×8 sheets of plywood. Best thing: Those massive pieces of blue foam. Ever since then, I've always loved carrying huge things that are light as a feather because you feel like Superman.
Last week, it was announced that researchers at HRL Laboratories have developed a new material 100 times lighter than styrofoam, consisting of "micro-lattice cellular architecture" that is 99.99% air. Though technically a metal comprised of nanotubes, the material has surprising elasticity—"including complete recovery from compression exceeding 50% strain"http://www.handeyesupply.com/making it ideal for shock absorption, dampening, and whatever else HRL client DARPA can dream up for the stuff.
Dr. Bill Carter, manager of the Architected Materials Group at HRL, lays out the vision for these micro-lattice materials by drawing parallels to large structures: "Modern buildings, exemplified by the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge, are incredibly light and weight-efficient by virtue of their architectures. We are revolutionizing lightweight materials by bringing this concept to the materials level and designing their architectures at the nano and micro scales."