Boundless Potential Lies Ahead for Glass Innovation
Boundless Potential Lies Ahead for Innovation
When academic research aligns with industry needs, the opportunities are astonishing
Since the beginning of time, fascination with the unknown has launched sailing ships, ignited experiments, and propelled rockets into space. Explorers, whether they gaze out at the horizon or peer into a microscope, have always been relentless about unlocking secrets and opening the world.
That sense of discovery is building for today’s glass scientists. Their stunning innovations in recent years are driving them to explore even more of the material’s vast complexities.
The more they learn, the more glass applications they make possible to enhance daily life.
And scientists are on the cusp of more glass discoveries than ever before.
“It’s a tremendously exciting time for glass research,” says Dr. John Mauro of Corning Incorporated and a world-recognized expert in glass fundamentals.
“Industrial innovations in many other materials, like metals, are slowing down. But designers are finding more and more ways that glass can help them improve their products and connect with customers in new ways.
“That demand is challenging those of us in the research community to keep learning more about every aspect of glass. At the same time, we must train new glass scientists to join us in making these discoveries.”
To dig deeper into the unknown, industrial innovators are encouraging research universities to focus more intently on the science of glass.
Mauro and three of his Corning colleagues — Charles Philip, Daniel Vaughn, and Dr. Michael Pambianchi — recently completed a deep study of the current state of academic glass science research. They uncovered some of the most potential-filled — yet under-explored — opportunities that, if addressed, could help greatly accelerate commercial development of new technical glass.
Consider these challenges that could result in remarkable breakthroughs in the Glass Age.
Cooling hot molten glass is a precarious process for glass innovators. At a very specific point — known as the liquidus temperature — the composition is vulnerable to the forming of microscopic crystals, which can mar the otherwise-pristine surface. This formation is less likely to happen if the mixture’s liquidus viscosity — simply put, the mixture’s resistance to flow at the exact point it reaches its liquidus temperature — is higher rather than lower. More research could improve scientists’ ability to create glass compositions that maximize liquidus viscosity, opening up significant new development opportunities.
Scientists have a great deal more to learn about glass relaxation, which can happen as the material undergoes temperature fluctuations. It’s a topic of enormous interest to consumer electronics manufacturers, for example. In that process, a glass substrate is subjected to high heat during the fabrication of high-resolution display panels — and too much glass relaxation could spell big problems for the delicate display circuitry or the toughness of a cover glass. In delving more into this issue — including ways that glass chemistry can control relaxation — innovators can greatly expand the role of glass in everyday applications.
If you’ve ever had a cracked smartphone screen, you’re well aware that though glass can be remarkably tough, it can still break. Fractography — or, the physics of how things break — can help researchers deepen their understanding of glass at the breaking point, and inspire new glass compositions and processes to make glass tougher than ever. Currently there are no academic programs in the U.S. devoted to this field. Should universities introduce programs in fractography, qualified graduates would likely have abundant career opportunities in the glass industry — and manufacturers would be able to introduce glass into even more demanding environments
Glass has potential use as an acoustic or thermal barrier in automotive and architectural applications, as well as in new electronic devices. How can glass composition affect the way it blocks sound or resists heat? Are acoustic properties of glass closely related to thermal conductivity? These are areas that have only begun to be studied, and once researchers better understand them, industrial designers will eagerly explore ways to put new glasses to work.
Glass surfaces offer significant opportunity for modern applications. Consider oleophobic glass, for example, that could be handled without picking up fingerprints — or a hydrophobic coating, offering extreme resistance to moisture. What about a glass surface that doesn’t glare or reflect in bright light?
Megatrends facing society — like diagnosing and treating diseases, creating renewable energy sources, and preserving clean air and water — “all have solutions that are based in materials innovations — and glass is one of the most promising materials to address a lot of these issues,” said Mauro.
For young researchers, he added, the opportunities for new discovery are boundless.
“We really are discovering new things every day. And we work in this environment where we have brilliant scientists from so many different fields — materials science, physics, chemistry, geology, engineering, mathematics — all coming together to solve problems with glass and ultimately changing the world for the better.
“What could be more exciting than that?”
These opportunities are tantalizing to glass scientists. And harnessing the collective energy of academia and industry is essential if the discoveries are to keep pace with industry demand.