100 Nano-Stories: Aerogel Technologies Reflections! 🙏🏽

Episode #36: My Takeaways From Stephen Steiner & Justin Griffin!

Carlos Manuel Jarquín Sánchez
8 min readFeb 27, 2021

Preface! → ✨

It’s your favorite material science & nanotechnology enthusiast! A few hours ago, I met up with Stephen Steiner (Chief Executive Officer) & Justin Griffin (Chief Operations Officer) of Aerogel Technologies, where they pioneer polymer aerogels known as Airloys. We discussed Rayleigh Scattering, our personal stories, material science, future applications, awareness, and more!

However, it was one of the best meetings in my life. It didn’t feel like I was talking to a CEO or COO. In fact, it felt more like this meme I saw in the morning from a friend. . .

But what surprised me was how long we were on the phone. How long you ask, reader? We were on the call for 1 hour, 11 minutes, and 21 seconds. 🤯

Disclaimer: As you can see from the photo, we were not able to fully connect to a computer, so we ended up moving to a phone call. But we made it work, and that's what matters! 😤

Thank you so much for the phone call, Stephen & Justin, and co.! :))

Background On Stephen, Justin, And Aerogel Technologies! → 📓

TL;DR → Aerogel Technologies

Aerogel Technologies, LLC is the world’s leading manufacturer of polymer aerogels (known as airloys) and monolithic aerogels, as well as a leading online distributor of aerogel materials with customizing certain aerogels products & samples.

Now let’s get to the good stuff! What did I learn? How was this conversation one of the most memorable in my life? Here you go! 😊

Discussion With Stephen & Justin! → 🧠

TL;DR → Stephen Steiner

He wanted to make alternative fuels in high school.

But instead of making alternative fuel/energy, he ended up making gels, which he would find out was aerogel.

He made a supercritical dryer in high school in his garage to make his own aerogels and competed at science fairs and won!

He did more research on aerogels at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He was able to make aerogels in zero-gravity with supercritical drying as one of his projects/research. Crazy!

But because of his love of aerogels, he forgot to pay attention to school. He was barely able to make it into MIT, and he got a master's degree in how to make carbon aerogels, graphene aerogels, graphene, and carbon nanotubes.

His company, Aerogel Technologies, was a side project, but once he left MIT, he went to pursue Aerogel Technologies full-time.

And the rest is history! 😏

CEO & COO Habits!

Steph & Justin wanted to know more about how to get into fields like aerogels, so what they did is look for research papers, and they could locate the phone numbers of the researchers and call them to learn more about the scientist’s research.

They both cold-called legit people. Bro. 😤

Steph personally hates video-calling. He prefers a phone call because it teaches a person about alertness. He said that most kids would rather text than call (I can confirm that as true lol). But back in the day, if you wanted to reach out to someone legit, you would have to call them. And if they picked up, you’re on the spot. No turning off the camera googling up a question to ask them. You only get this chance. You can think of it as the audio-only app Clubhouse, but on steroids.

Rayleigh Scattering!

He asked if I knew why silica aerogel is blue! It’s because of Rayleigh Scattering.

TL;DR → Rayleigh Scattering: 👇🏽

When light from the cosmos enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it will confront the molecules that are abundant in the atmosphere (in the air, there is mostly nitrogen and oxygen). When this occurs, the light will bounce from one molecule to another, sort of like a bouncy ball hitting two walls. This type of bouncing of light being redirected is called scattering.

The equation of Rayleigh Scattering is inversely proportional to 1 divided by the wavelength raised to the 4th power. This means that if the wavelength of a certain ray of light is short, then the wavelength of light will scatter more than a ray of light where the wavelength is larger.

Note: Stephen Steiner corrected me, telling me it’s actually dust particles that reflect the light when it comes from the cosmos, although the molecules & light redirection were accurate.

Awareness Of Material Science & Engineering!

From Stephen & Justin: If you think about it COVID-19 is a nanoparticle. It destroyed everything in its path. A f***** nanoparticle! 🤯

If a nanoparticle can change the world like that, then if we use nanotechnology & nanomaterials for good, we can change the world. But the reason why it hasn’t happened earlier was that nobody knew how much impact nanomaterials & nanoparticles could do, as well as the number of people who were interested in doing so.

All 3 of us agreed that nanomaterials need more awareness. Nanotechnology is all material.

If you think about it, the world is and out of materials: your clothes, your computer, your cup of coffee that you’re drinking when reading this article, everything! And we use materials every day! So if we enhance materials, we enhance the world!

Stephen & Justin told me that the main reason why nanotechnology, let alone nanomaterials don’t get much attention is because of the time needed for the exponential technologies to produce more. Exponential technologies also take longer to make.

How Anyone Can Spread The Awareness!

Level 1) Understand the fundamentals yourself & have the internal drive to do so. Sometimes, the fundamentals are the most boring sh*t in the world. But without it, you can’t share the content because even you can’t understand it.

What I said to Stephen & Justin was that if you can’t explain a concept using a meme, you don’t know how to explain it via an article, video, or presentation. 😉

Level 2) Share the actual content. Make it fun. Stephen said that research papers are good resources, but when you want to share something, you don’t want to make it sound like a research paper or people will not read it. But add memes, GIFs, or make your own to add enthusiasm & creativity! You are unique, so make it unique.

Level 3) It’s harder to maintain focus with so much information at your fingertips. Stephen & Justin had the ability to access a lot of information, but not enough information to consume their time looking what was right, wrong, good, or bad. Stephen opened up and said to me, “If I was your age doing aerogel research, I probably would not have continued with aerogels. There are too many distractions at this time.”

Bonus Tip) If you are bilingual and/or are a minority, you have a lot of power & responsibility! You can translate content for other people to understand! :)

Surface Area & Unanswered Questions About Aerogel!

Aerogels are a LOT more available than what the public thinks because of the youtube videos. One of the big examples is Aspen Aerogel’s Supercritical Dryers! They are monsters, almost 15 ft. (4.5 meters) in length!

In YouTube Videos, Production & Supercritical Drying is claimed to be expensive! Stephen says that is a complete lie! In fact, you don’t need a supercritical dryer anymore to make aerogel!

I presented my review article/idea where we can just improve the production of aerogels by increasing the surface area of aerogels, but decrease the thickness/volume so that we can make aerogels a maximum-insulating material!

Stephen & Justin Agreed! In fact, certain companies like Aspen Aerogels & Aerogle Technologies have been working on that! 😁

Miscellaneous Content!

Stephen pointed out something very “controversial” but interesting:

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is overrated.

AI to make bots or something huge like a quantum brain won’t work on a classical computer. But the other thing is that anyone can learn AI and write out a bunch of code for hours, but because of how much power AI potentially has, everyone will chase AI. But it’s sometimes harder to make a huge impact when everyone else is working on the same technology. If we want Real AI (bots, cyborgs, etc.), code all you want, but you need advanced materials to build this bot. No Nanotechnology, Nanomaterials, or Material Science/Engineering, there will be zero innovation, power, or change.

Closing Thoughts + Takeaways! → 💡

There is the possibility that you might set one goal, but end up achieving a different goal. You must accept that.

If that happens, figure out where it goes. That may be where you succeed.

Don’t do things for short-term success.

If you enjoy something so much, share about it! You shouldn't keep it locked away! Who knows who you may inspire!

Make sure to try phone calls with legit people. It tests your ability to ask questions on the spot and your knowledge, but it can make a CEO and a COO happy. It depends on your situation. 😉

Once again, shoutout to Justin Griffin for organizing the event, and to Stephen Steiner for sharing your story, knowledge, and wisdom for the rest of the world to take a bias towards action! Thank you so much! :)))

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