Physical Science - Other

Scientists Confirm Earlier Theories on Glass Structure

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"Scientists Confirm Earlier Theories on Glass Structure"
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A team of scientists from Cornell University, located in New York, and Germany's University of Ulm reported a remarkable discovery last year after they created an amazingly thin pane of glass.  According to Mashable, the "pane is so thin that it's actually two-dimensional."

And perhaps more astonishing is that this 2-D find was completely unintentional. The scientists, comprised of an instructor and multiple students, had been working on a completely different project. At the time, the international team was working on a task that entailed them trying to develop graphene, which is a two-dimensional sheet of carbon, and considered to be a versatile material. A material that could have many valuable uses in today's high-tech centric society.

However, during the course of the experiment, an air leak seemingly occurred. The resulting chemical reaction created the ultra-thin glass which is said to be just one molecule (two atoms) thick. The scientists took a closer look at was described as the "muck" they had noticed on the graphene. Upon further inspection, they realized the byproduct was made of the same elements that create glass.

"They concluded that an air leak had caused the copper to react with the quartz, also made of silicon and oxygen. This produced the glass layer on the would-be pure graphene," reported the Cornell Chronicle.

According to the Cornell Chronicle report, the team produced an image of the individual atoms of glass and said it very closely resembles a diagram drawn back in 1932 by W.H. Zachariasen. Zachariasen's research has had high influence in the field of glass science. This remarkable discovery provides further insight into how glass is structured. Previously, scientists had no way to see what individual atoms of glass looked like. Experts say glass looks and behaves like a solid, but its chemical makeup is believed to be more aligned with liquids.

"This is the work that, when I look back at my career, I will be most proud of," said David A. Muller, professor of applied and engineering physics and director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science. "It’s the first time that anyone has been able to see the arrangement of atoms in a glass."

Not only do the researchers hold this distinction, but the Guinness Book of World Records will be acknowledging the world's thinnest glass in its 2014 edition.

This discovery, however, goes beyond a notable mention in the famous listings. As scientists can better understand the structure of glass, there could be a number of important uses for extremely thin glass, as Gizmodo notes.

Some might be wondering how durable this ultra-thin glass is.

"It can break, but it is actually much more flexible than regular glass," said Muller, reported the Los Angeles Times. "You can bend it a lot more without it shattering, but it will eventually break."

The original research, titled "Direct Imaging of a Two-Dimensional Silica Glass on Graphene," was published in Nano Letters in January 2012.

More about this author: Leigh Goessl

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