When Glass Crystallizes, Spectacular Possibilities Come to Life | Materials Science | Corning

When glass crystallizes, spectacular possibilities come to life

Spectacular Possibilities

Glass and ceramics seem, on the surface, to be totally different. In many ways, they are.

Glass is amorphous. In other words, its atoms are in random order and often without discrete interfaces, so light can move though it easily.

Ceramic material, on the other hand, arranges its internal structure in an orderly fashion. At a microscopic level, it’s crystallized. Most of these ceramics are polycrystalline, so lightwaves scatter off the crystal grain boundaries, often making it opaque.

But the two materials also have deep similarities – with glass, under some conditions, even able to morph into a specialized hybrid glass ceramic material that combines the best of glass and ceramics. The result: unique, high-tech properties. And as science continues to tap into the potential of The Glass Age, they’re a perfect pairing.

Here’s why.

In making ceramics, scientists typically start with a variety of powdered materials – some amorphous, and most crystalline. They heat them up under carefully controlled conditions. Along the way to becoming a final ceramic product, some portion of entire mixture can become amorphous, or glass-like. Crystallization occurs as the heating and cooling process continues, with a new, ordered structure. A ceramic material has been formed…in other words, glass crystallized.

Corning scientists, long recognized as world-leading innovators in both glass and ceramics, are finding new parallels between the two materials as they strive to solve tough problems like cleaning engine emissions, storing and transmitting energy, and purifying air and water.

Both materials are inorganic and can be remarkably stable, withstanding extreme heat fluctuations without changing dimension or form (a highly desirable property that scientists call a low coefficient of thermal expansion.) In some cases, they can even be shaped and strengthened with similar techniques.

They can both be extremely tough, belying their popular perception of fragility. They can both take on a wide range of properties and attributes based on composition and manufacturing processes, making the list of powerful applications almost endless. They can be fully dense or full of well-controlled, intentionally engineered porosity.

Expertise in one material field naturally leads to deepened understanding of the other.