McGill University researchers developed a stronger and more durable glass by drawing inspiration from the inner layer of mollusk shells. Rather than fracturing on impact, the new material exhibits the durability of plastic.
In the future, this could be a great innovation to improve cell phone screens, among other things.
Tempering and laminating are techniques to help reinforce glass, but their effect can be temporary.
“Until now there were trade-offs between high strength, toughness, and transparency. Our new material is not only three times stronger than the normal glass, but also more than five times more fracture resistant,” says Allen Ehrlicher, an Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at McGill in Montreal, Canada.
The scientist was inspired by nature and invented a novel glass and acrylic composite material that resembles nacre or mother of pearl.
“Nature is a master of design. Studying the structure of biological materials and understanding how they work offers inspiration, and sometimes blueprints, for new materials,” says Ehrlicher, reported Science Daily.
The scientists reproduced the architecture of nacre with layers of glass flakes and acrylic, resulting in an extremely strong yet opaque material that can be made quickly and cheaply and from there, making it optically transparent.
Also, they plan to improve it in the future by introducing innovative technology that allows the glass to change features like color, dynamics, and conductivity.
“By tuning the refractive index of the acrylic, we made it seamlessly blend with the glass to make a truly transparent composite,” says lead author Ali Amini, a Postdoctoral Researcher at McGill.
Flexible glass is considered a lost invention and comes from the time of the Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar.
According to the historical accounts of Roman authors Gaius Pinius Secondus and Petronius, the inventor of this material, handed a drinking bowl constructed of this material to Caesar. When the bowl was tested for strength, they could not break it, only causing it to dent.
When the inventor disclosed to the Emperor he was the only one able to produce the material, fearing the glass would become more valuable than gold or silver, Tiberius had him executed.
In the modern era, flexible glass is used in fiber optic cables. It is exceptionally pure glass, manufactured with few defects and a pristine surface.
In 2012, Corning Inc. introduced Willow Glass, a flexible glass based on borosilicate glass. In 2016, Schott AG introduced a similar flexible glass product.