Everyone loves the look of glass, but with this beauty also comes its fragility. Glass is used in many things, from buildings to phone screens. The glass industry was challenged with a trade-off between transparency and strength in the past. Now, scientists might have found a way to make glass as strong as plastic by drawing inspiration from nature.
Tempering and Laminating
One of the biggest challenges when designing a product is finding a balance between strength and clarity. Plastics offer a solution, but they do not have the beauty of clear glass, and they can make some products look cheap. In the past, tempering the glass, laminating it with a plastic film, and inserting materials for reinforcement were the main ways for making glass stronger. Unfortunately, these processes cause cloudiness or discoloration that can affect the aesthetics of the glass.
Inspired by Mollusks
Scientists at McGill University turned to nature to find a solution to solve this problem. Nacre, or mother-of-pearl, is the coating on the inside of a mollusk shell. It is flexible, durable, and opaque. First, they used the chalky layers that form nacre as the inspiration for layers of glass flakes and acrylic to create an incredibly strong material. Then, they changed the refractive index of the acrylic to create a transparent material that has the clarity of glass and mimics its reflective properties.
Uses of the New Unbreakable Glass
The potential uses of this new acrylic and glass composite present many new opportunities. According to the University, the structure of the new material is 3,000 times stronger than the materials used to create it. It has the resiliency of plastic when it takes an impact or you drop it.
The idea for the new glass came from a story during the time of Emperor Tiberius Caesar of Rome. The story goes that an inventor created a drinking bowl made of a material that was supposedly glass. However, when presented to the Emperor, it only dented, rather than shattered, when tested. The inventor was executed because Emperor Tiberius feared that this new glass would become more valuable than gold or silver, which would lead to currency devaluation.
This new unbreakable glass holds many new possibilities for phone glass, laptop glass, unbreakable windows, car glass, and to make stronger glass furniture and décor. This is an example where nature often provides the solutions we need to solve complex problems. Fortunately, we no longer execute the inventors of such promising innovations and instead welcome this new material and the possibilities it holds.