Researchers from McGill University have developed the strongest and hardest glass once known. Inspired, in part, by the inner layer of mollusk shells, this glass does not shatter on impact and acts more like plastic.
The material, once commercially viable, can be used to improve mobile phone screens, among other applications in the future.
Interestingly, this may be an example of modern science rediscovering old technology long lost.
Apparently it had the shape of a flexible glass during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar. So the story goes, as told by Petronius, a glass maker brought a drinking bowl made of the material to the Emperor.
According to historical recordswhen the bowl was tested for its strength, it sank rather than shattered. Moreover, the inventor swore that he was the only person who knew how this miracle was achieved.
Tiberius forced the man to be executed, fearing that the glass would devalue gold and silver because it might be more valuable.
“When I think of the history of Tiberius, I am glad that our material innovations lead to publication, not execution.” says everything honestly,, Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at McGill University.
Strengthening the glass by copying nature
Currently, the only way to make glass stronger is to temper or laminate it. Although this can strengthen the glass, the process (s) are expensive and do not provide additional strength to the structure after failure.
“So far, there have been trade-offs between high strength, durability and transparency. Our new material is not only three times stronger than normal glass, but also more than five times more resistant to breakage, ”he says. Honestly.
The inspiration for this new type of glass comes from nature – namely mother of pearl or “mother of pearl”. By the end, McGill scientists were able to develop the new glass and acrylic composite.
“Nature is a master of design. Studying the structure of biological materials and understanding their action offers inspiration and sometimes drawings for new materials, ”explains Ehrlicher.
Mother of pearl is an excellent choice for inspiration, as it is a very strong material in itself.
“Surprisingly, mother-of-pearl has the hardness of a hard material and the durability of a soft material, which gives it the best of both worlds,” Ehrlicher continues.
“It’s made of hard pieces of chalk-like fabric that are layered with soft proteins that are very elastic. This structure produces exceptional strength, which makes it 3000 times stronger than the materials that make it up, “he added.
Through careful study of nacre architecture, researchers were able to reproduce it in glass using glass flakes and acrylic. This structure gave an extremely strong but opaque material that could theoretically be produced a lot cheap and fast.
To do strong glass a true substitute for more conventional glass, the material had to become transparent or at least translucent.
“By adjusting the refractive index of acrylic, we made it seamless to blend with the glass to make a truly transparent composite,” says lead author Ali Amini, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill. In the future, the team hopes to improve strong glass through incorporating intelligent technology that allows the glass to change its properties, such as color, mechanics and conductivity.