Glass is a material we see and touch every day, we are surrounded by it in its multitude of uses; windows: doors: containers and screens to name a few.
The earliest glass, glass beads, dates back to 2500 B.C.E. found in Egypt, modern glass originated in Alexandria during the Ptolemaic period, or 323 B.C.E., when artisans used “mosaic glass” to create decorative patterns. The first clear glass, “cristallo”, was invented by Angelo Barovier in Venice during the 15th century; George Ravenscroft created lead crystal glass by adding lead oxide to Venetian glass in 1675.
It would not be until the 25th of March, 1902, that Irving W Colburn would patent the sheet glass drawing machine that would make the mass production of glass windows possible. Two years later, in August of 1904 Michael Owen would patent “a glass shaping machine” that would allow for the mass production of bottles, jars, and other glass containers.
Our modern glass is hard, brittle, and generally stands up to the effects of wind, rain or sun. Yet because glass does not have an orderly crystalline structure when the stress exceeds the strength of the glass it breaks and does not dent or deform like sheet metal that does have an orderly crystalline structure.
When a substance freezes after cooling from the liquid state it forms a solid that will have either a crystalline structure or amorphous structure, an amorphous has an essentially random structure.
It is the amorphous structural quality of glass that gives it its translucency and at the same time makes it brittle.
This is because the amorphous structure does not contain planes of atoms that can slip past one another, meaning there is no way to relive stress. Excessive stress forms a crack which allows further bonds to break, widening the crack until the glass breaks. Material scientists at the University of Michigan have constructed a new material from layers of clay nano-sheets and a water-soluble polymer that shares similar chemistry with ordinary white glue, that is as strong as steel while remaining both pliable and more importantly transparent. A robot stacks the nano-sheets like bricks in an alternating pattern and uses a glue-like polymer to create cooperative hydrogen bonds between the layers that can easily reform in another place if the bond is broken.
“When you have a brick-and-mortar structure, any cracks are blunted by each interface; we’ve demonstrated that one can achieve almost ideal transfer of stress between nano-sheets and a polymer matrix.”
Made of clay and non toxic glue, the material is cheap, biodegradable and requires very little energy to produce.
Creating a stronger form of glass is one thing, what is to come is something else. Imagine if you will a glass that will transform your tabletop or window into a device that you can interact with, or a thin film of glass that will take the place of your hand held telecommunications device.
This is just one more technology in a very long line of advances that is set to improve our lives and bring us all much closer together, the question we must ask ourselves is, what are we going to do with it? Restrict access through monetary means or share?