One of the reasons it is increasingly used in such abundance is that science has reached a point where it can change the physical characteristics of glass altogether to make it more suitable to our specific needs. By tweaking its molecular makeup and combining it with other materials we can enhance its properties and ‘mend’ some of its inherent flaws, the very flaws that define it as a brittle material. Not only are new grades being developed, but entirely new breeds of glass are being conceived.
Take for instance USA-based Corning, which is achieving some remarkable performance-enhancing feats with many new glass formulations. One example is Willow Glass, a sheet glass that combines ultra-thin (0.1mm) capabilities and lightness in weight with the durability and hardness of conventional soda-lime glass. This has given resurgence to a material born in antiquity and allowing it to forge an alliance with new technologies. Applicable to consumer electronics, interior paneling and appliances, Willow Glass can provide scratch-resistant surface for electronics and when laminated to less durable substrates (it’s so thin it is sold on a roll) it gives an extremely durable coating. As with Gorilla Glass, Corning’s better known thin and tough glass, it is being applied to interiors, architecture (paneling on lifts), automotives and billions of mobile phones.
It is facilitating the creation of environments that are not only changing our notions of glass but also redefining what is a passive and what is an interactive surface. In the future we will see these lightweight and strong breeds of glass being used more in applications that exploit smart surfaces and interactive touch in walls and paneling, potentially leading to a hybrid of interactive home appliances and interior spaces. Through these new glasses buildings and products will become smarter, linking the digital and physical in new ways.