Thanks to a Super Material, Your Future Phone May Be an All-Glass Wonder

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Scientists have invented a new type of metal-infused glass that's stronger than steel. In fact it's tougher and stronger than any other known material.

While the revolutionary smash-resistant Gorilla Glass is improving the survivability of touchscreen devices, and Apple's leading the avant garde use of glass as a structural material in portable devices with the iPhone 4, no one in their right mind would consider making an entire phone out of glass. Until now, that is.

Work at Berkeley Lab and Cal Tech has led to the creation of a new metallic glass which incorporates palladium (a metal which has a very high "bulk to shear" ratio, counteracting the weak, easy-to-fracture nature of traditional glass). Silver is also added to the mix so that when the glass is cooled down during its production, it solidifies in an amorphous structure, which is even more resistant to damage.

The resulting material, called DH3, reacts totally differently to normal glass when you subject it to stresses like bending: Where normal glass would quickly form a fracture, which would then run speedily through the material leading to a catastrophic break, the palladium glass forms many "shear bands"--where the glass and metal materials inside it slide over each other, absorbing much of the stress energy, before they fail in the formation of cracks. As a result the glass behaves much more plastically than like a glass, and can bend very significantly before it breaks.

In fact the glass is actually tougher (in the physics sense, meaning its resistance to fracture) and stronger (meaning resistance to flexing or stretching) than any other known material.

Yup, these scientists have created a glass--similar to those fragile wine glasses and cell phone screens we all try our best not to clumsily break all the time--that's probably a better structural material than the metal or plastic frame of your phone, the shelves you store your wine glasses on or the chair you're sitting on.

Even more exciting is the fact that this research already indicates that future metallic glasses could be even tougher and stronger than the ones produced this far. Which raises some pretty incredible possibilities, assuming the technology can be quickly scaled up to industrial production levels: All-glass cellphones, anyone? Cars with key crash-resistant components made not of metal, but of glass? Glass architectural structures that make windows and glass staircases seem quaint? Yes, yes and yes. And maybe more.

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2 Comments

  • Nate Miller

    Article fail. 'Glass' does not mean it's clear and you can make windows out of it. It simply means it's amorphous and has no long range ordering to the atoms -in other words it is not crystalline. It is not a normal piece of window glass with some metal added to make it super strong -it is a metal alloy cooled in such a way (super fast) that crystals don't have time to form and the amorphous structure of the liquid is ' frozen in'.
    Metallic glasses have been around for a while and
    they are very cool but they are not a replacement
    for windows of any sort and will not be used for
    cell phone screens. The link to the original article
    there has all the facts right but the author
    misinterpreted them.

    Trust me - I have a PhD in materials science. Or look up metallic glass on wikipedia.

  • Jackson H. Steel

    Glass phones? No. How about super durable viewports for space travel?