Aerogel was first created by Steven Kistler in 1931 as a result of a bet with another chemist, and according to TimesOnline was later enhanced by NASA in order to catch dust from a Comet's tail. A company created by NASA called Aspen Aerogels eventually produced a stronger, more flexible version of the gel in 2002 which is being used in space suits for the first manned mission to Mars scheduled for 2018.
Look for all kinds of products to be outfitted with this material over the next several years as companies look to make products lighter and stronger. Aspen Aerogels is still a private company, so there isn't a way to invest yet, but it will be a company worth watching over the next few years if and when they get bought out or pursue an IPO.
However, there is another way to play the aerogel space for the time being - Cabot Corp (CBT), a company that is apparently in a race with Aspen to develop as many aerogel patents as possible. It produces a family of silica aerogels under the trade name Nanogel and is gaining wide acceptance for use in thermal protection, diffused light and sound reduction. The company is also addressing the needs of oil and gas operators who are developing subsea fields or new LNG systems. The company is not a an aerogel pure play, but also worth keeping an eye on.
Watch a video of this fascinating material here.
CBT 1-yr chart: