Scientists reveal why glass is glass
Despite solid appearance, glass is actually in a "jammed" state of matter
Scientists have made a breakthrough discovery in the bizarre properties of glass, which behaves at times like both a solid and a liquid.
The finding could lead to aircraft that look like Wonder Woman's plane. Such planes could have wings of glass or something called metallic glass, rather than being totally invisible.
The breakthrough involved solving the decades-old problem of just what glass is. It has been known that that despite its solid appearance, glass and gels are actually in a "jammed" state of matter — somewhere between liquid and solid — that moves very slowly. Like cars in a traffic jam, atoms in a glass are in something like suspended animation, unable to reach their destination because the route is blocked by their neighbors. So even though glass is a hard substance, it never quite becomes a proper solid, according to chemists and materials scientists.
Glass structure could strengthen steel
The jammed random arrangement of atoms in glass is what makes it very strong, but brittle. Metals form a regular crystal lattice pattern, which allows them to be distorted or bent, but makes them less strong and prone to metal failure.
Combining the two materials to form a metallic glass alloy, could result in a material that has strength and flexibity.
Doctor Rob O'Donnell, a senior materials scientist from the CSIRO, says this research has identified the step that materials go through on the journey from being in a liquid glassy state to being crystalline, and could pave the way for newer alloys.
"At the moment quasi-crystals are more of an anomaly. People see the quasi-crystals but don't actually make an entire quasi-crystalline material," O'Donnell says. "But if you knew how to do that, then it may enable you to make them more easily."
He says metallic glasses would be suitable for products that need to be very strong, very light and have a degree of flexibility that will allow them to bend a little and not break.
"Glassy metals probably will have much higher strength than a normal crystalline metal, improved corrosion resistance and they can produce lighter and stiffer components," O'Donnell says.
"This research has helped identify the mechanism which will allow these metals to be able to make more easily."