Wednesday, 23 October 2013

World's Thinnest Glass

Earlier this year a new addition to the Guinness World records was made, that being, the world’s thinnest silica glass. Created purely by accident, scientists at Cornell University, manage to create a one molecule thick “pane” of glass. The same type of glass used in windows and light bulbs. The small pane of glass, which is essentially a 2-Dimensional object, was first created back in January of 2012, but has only recently been recognised as the “world’s thinnest glass”. While this discovery will have little immediate impact on the glazing world, it could mean big things for computers and mobile devices.
But why is this important, you ask, well up until now, no one has been able to see how glass molecules interact, or even how they arrange themselves. See, when matter turns from a liquid into a solid, the molecules form into a rigid structure. But glass is different, when it solidifies; the molecules remain in a liquid structure. This meant many people believed that glass was a solid liquid, and that it could “flow”. But this is not the case. Glass just manages to skip one of the transitional phases matter goes through when changing from a liquid to a solid. Meaning glass is a solid that has a molecular structure that looks like liquid.

So now with the aid of an electron microscope, scientist can observe how this 2D glass’s molecules react to being bent and broken, a process that until now could only be theorized. While this new found knowledge may take a while to reach the general glazing world. It could well mean new techniques for strengthening glass used in the home and car. Or maybe result in new pressurised cabins for deep sea exploration or world land speed records. But this is likely to be a ways off yet. For now, researchers are looking towards faster more efficient computers and electronic devices.

Currently very thin pieces of glass are used in lithium ion batteries as part of the charging process. Reducing the thickness of this glass would result in faster charge times. There are also advancements to be made in computer chips. Thinner glass means smaller circuits, which could result in faster computers. Not to mention the possible advancements in nanotechnology. 

Whatever the outcome from this discovery, we can be sure of one thing, the future is clear.

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