About Aerogel.org

We’ve got a lot of work to do on this planet.

And it’s not gonna get done waiting around for somebody else to do it. We’ve got to take matters into our own hands. And it’s gonna take time, steady effort, and the willingness to take on hard problems. And it’s gonna take a lot of scientists, engineers, and creative brains.

Welcome to Aerogel.org, an open source nanotech initiative.

The mission of Aerogel.org is to empower, inspire, and motivate people to pursue nanotechnology using open source methodology and to catalyze the discovery of new technological possibilities for aerogel materials in the process.

Aerogel.org is based on the principle that making straightforward information about exciting science available to everyone is the best way to stimulate people to pursue science, engineering, and other creative endeavors.

On Aerogel.org you will find an encyclopedic reference about aerogels, an extensive photo gallery, interviews with aerogel scientists, and how-to guides for how to make aerogels of your very own. You’ll find forums where you can interact with others interested in making aerogels and discover user-generated recipes for making aerogels of all sorts.

We’ve gone to great lengths to try to make everything on Aerogel.org understandable with a minimal level of technical inclination but at the same time serve as a valuable resource for even university-level researchers. Even if you find some of the articles to be a bit on the technical side, we’re confident with a little bit of patience and interest you can figure it out.

Aerogel’s not just for NASA anymore. Welcome to open source nanotech–get involved!

About the Co-Founders

Dr. Stephen “Stevie” Steiner

My name is Stephen Steiner and I am one of the cofounders of Aerogel.org.

When I was in high school, I became intrigued by aerogels. Actually, I was really interested in figuring out how to make environmentally-friendly fuels, particularly hydrogen, when, one day while reading about hydrogen production on the Internet, I came up with an idea for making hydrogen from water and sunlight using aerogels. Back in those days, there wasn’t a lot of information about aerogels readily available and the equipment to make them was really expensive. Nonetheless, I was determined to figure out how.

I didn’t have a lot of financial resources, nor are my parents scientists or engineers (if they were they probably wouldn’t have let me get away with the kinds of stuff I used to do in my basement at home!). But both my parents and my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Ron Le May, were extremely supportive of my creative pursuits, and so I set out on a quest to make aerogels of my very own.

Within a year I had built my own supercritical dryer and invented my own variation of silica sol-gel chemistry that enabled me to make silica aerogels with a controllable gel time and in lots of unusual shapes. Although I didn’t quite get to making hydrogen with aerogels, I did get to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, where I won 2nd Place in Chemistry and an Intel Achievement Award for research done without the resources of a mentor or laboratory, among other stuff.

I’m now PhD scientist working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I got my master’s degree and PhD and make advanced materials using carbon nanotubes, diamond, and of course, aerogels.

But I couldn’t have done any of this without the efforts of a few forward-thinking scientists, especially Dr. Mike Ayers and Dr. Arlon Hunt at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Dr. Hubert van Hecke at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who made some really detailed, straight-talkin’ pages about aerogels back in the 1990’s. And thanks to the patience and willingness of a couple of aerogel scientists who took the time to answer the questions of a kind-of-annoying high school kid, especially Dr. Tom Tillotson (to whom I owe at least one cup of coffee), I was able to fill in the gaps and figure how to take stuff I could afford and obtain and make aerogels with it.

A lot has changed since the days of dial-up modems and overnight dotcom millionaires, especially with aerogels. Unfortunately the public awareness of aerogels is pretty much the same, and people see aerogel as an impossibly exotic material they could never make themselves. Our job is to fix that.

So welcome to Aerogel.org. We hope you see why we think this stuff is so darn cool.

Peace, Love, Aerogel
Stephen Steiner

Will Walker

I create art that walks the line between the wonder of science fiction and the beauty of things we often overlook. Sometimes this means building highly complex, delicate structures out of cardboard, paper and glue, sometimes it means painting with diamonds on paper, or stringing together explosions, like Christmas lights, to make a sculpture that lasts a few seconds.

In 2004, I became aware of aerogel through images on the web and samples I acquired. The nanostructure of the material bore a resemblance to the wood and paper sculptures I was building (these were a bit like self-reinforcing three dimensional bridges that led back upon themselves). It was thrilling to see that the visual effect of all those molecular struts and beams was a blue of the sky, like holding a smudge of atmosphere in your hand. It became a goal to learn to work with the material – to cast it into my art.

At the time, though, I was without the tools to approach making the material. I lacked the vocabulary and context to understand the scientific literature on the subject. To go further would require widening my sense of what it was to be an artist, and conjoining my studio practice with the process of extensive experimentation. The stage was set for a collaboration.

In 2006, I applied for and received a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation to study and work with aerogels. I approached Stephen Steiner about the possibility of collaborating. Stephen’s website indicated he was a sort of scientific MacGyver, translating complex technical processes into commonplace and readily available materials. The parallels between our work were evident and we set two goals for ourselves – to study the possibility of casting and preparing complex structures out of aerogel, and to make this knowledge freely available through the Internet to others who could make use of it.

Aerogel.org has come about as a way to distribute the results of our art-science collaboration. Presently, the site draws upon Stephen’s encyclopedic knowledge and serves as a fantastic primer into the history, qualities and applications of aerogels.

To date, my contributions to the site have included the web development and design. In the future, look for my photographs of samples and processes we have created in the see section. As candidate aerogels become viable for sculptures, look for my articles on the casting and molding of aerogels, as well as my musings on the theoretical and cultural implications of our nanotech.


Listen to Us on The Critical Point

Hear co-founders Stephen Steiner and Will Walker talk about Aerogel.org on The Critical Point (our podcast).

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