In my story to protect his treasure room, the king of a 12th century kingdom has heavily invested in his alchemists, who managed to create silica aerogel in blocks and made them insoluble in water (how they did is not in scope for this question, let's assume it happened and he secured the alchemists would keep the secret forever).

enter image description here

Using these blocks he created a 3D maze in a volume of (w × l × h) 20 × 20 × 8 meters. The entrance is somewhere on the 20 × 8 wall, same holds for the exit on the opposite face leading to the treasure room.

The volume is at the end of a cave and the entire access wall is uncovered. There are no other features in the maze to stop intruders, except the maze itself.

For the people knowing the path to follow (n steps straight, climb in the passage 1 meter above the ground, etc...) there is no problem in going from the entrance to the exit, for anybody else trying to figure out his path in the maze there are the following risks:

  • due to the appearance of silica aerogel (see photo) it's hard to have visual references or clues
  • due to the nature of silica aerogel being highly hygroscopic, heavy dehydration is highly likely
  • for the same reason touching the walls with bare skin is not advised

Does the silica aerogel actually provide better functionality to the maze with respect to stone bricks, or am I neglecting some aspect?

  • $\begingroup$ So, a hygroscopic material that doesn't dissolve in water. There are materials like that (textiles for example), but if the gel absorbs water it absorbs mass, it will loose it's stability and will probably collapse. Also, you could easily cut your way through it since aerogels are not very stable in that aspect. $\endgroup$ – Fl.pf. Jun 20 '17 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ "anybody else trying to figure out his path in the maze there are the following risks". Maybe you should rephrase that part, it is highly confusing. It might be great if you want to keep your treasure nice and dry, but there are easier alternatives. Just use plain old cheaper salt $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 20 '17 at 8:59
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to think about using carbon aerogel, or at least cover stones in it (and maybe have it automagically regenerate). Its almost as black as ventablack and with the bad availability of good light sources back then it would be a hell to navigate. $\endgroup$ – PlasmaHH Jun 20 '17 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ @PlasmaHH, how about its resistance to fire? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 20 '17 at 11:05
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    $\begingroup$ How can it be both insoluble in water, AND hygroscopic? $\endgroup$ – Ross Presser Jun 20 '17 at 16:44

As a maze, it's still subject to maze solving algorithms such as wall following, the pledge algorithm, Trémaux's algorithm, and such. Depending on certain features of the maze, you can even still use the simplistic wall following algorithm on it even if it's a 3D maze. It's just a necessary nature of mazes. And based off your limitations, an intruder can still cover exposed parts of their body for touch to aid in their utilization of their chosen algorithm. This reduces the issue of the translucent property of the aerogel throwing them off.

All that really matters is that they satisfy the requirements of the algorithm, and they don't need their eyes for that. They just need to path out the maze.

Secondly, it's also very brittle. Aerogel tends to break easily. Its strength comes from uniform distribution of force across its area. And while you are relying on dehydration of the intruder, your maze is very small. 20 meters is only 65 feet.

Using this floor plan as a size reference, it's easy to imagine someone who's fully hydrated able to smash their way through the maze before they succumb to dehydration or fatigue. Aerogel is also very light, so the destruction of the maze will in no way impact the health of the intruder.

The benefits of Aerogel have become your downfall here.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Wall following isnt guaranteed to solve a 3D maze $\endgroup$ – Matt Jun 20 '17 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Matt Hence "Depending on certain features of the maze." I wasn't going to get into the design approaches that renders wall following an invalid solution. $\endgroup$ – The Anathema Jun 20 '17 at 19:29

Aerogels are light, stiff, good insulators, a great modern material. They're just not very strong in the traditional sense of the word. With the help of an axe I could quite happily take a straight line through your maze, a problem that stone doesn't have.

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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch, drink morning tea before answering questions $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 20 '17 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix But if you get at it with an axe, won't the maze lose its integrity and make the treasure room inaccessible... Not to mention bury you under grams of rubble. $\endgroup$ – Hyfnae Jun 20 '17 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Hyfnae That's a bug, not a feature. If the maze were made of stone, bricks or even wood, when collapsing it could be fatal. With aerogel it's going to be harmless. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jun 20 '17 at 8:03
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    $\begingroup$ An axe? I'm pretty sure your bare hands would be sufficient. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 20 '17 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Draco18s, subtlety isn't one of my strong points $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 20 '17 at 14:34

Compared to stone brick, aerogels might be one of the worst choices of material for protection. Some peers of mine made titanium oxide aerogel last year. (It was to test a potential method of radiation protection on NASA's Orion capsule, but that's another story) They quickly encountered one problem - aerogels (of all types) are extremely fragile, to the point that any potential assailant confronted with your maze could simply punch their way through. In their case, it shattered in its bubble-wrapped vial simply due to its being transported in a car. Even if nobody with malicious intent attempted to break through, climbing over it in a 3D maze has a high probability of shattering large sections of it by accident. On the upside, it would look pretty cool while it lasted.

Note: I didn't notice the second answer until I finished this one.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE Blapor! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Jun 20 '17 at 20:43

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