Improved Silica Aerogel Composite MaterialsA family of aerogel-matrix composite materials having thermal-stability and mechanical- integrity properties better than those of neat aerogels has been developed. Aerogels are known to be excellent thermal- and acoustic-insulation materials because of their molecular-scale porosity, but heretofore, the use of aerogels has been inhibited by two factors: (1) Their brittleness makes processing and handling difficult. (2) They shrink during production and shrink more when heated to high temperatures during use. The shrinkage and the consequent cracking make it difficult to use them to encapsulate objects in thermal-insulation materials. The underlying concept of aerogel-matrix composites is not new; the novelty of the present family of materials lies in formulations and processes that result in superior properties, which include (1) much less shrinkage during a supercritical-drying process employed in producing a typical aerogel, (2) much less shrinkage during exposure to high temperatures, and (3) as a result of the reduction in shrinkage, much less or even no cracking.