The secret to your phone’s futuristic glass started long ago


Your phone’s tough cover glass is the product of years of research. Dr. Ljerka Ukrainczyk explains how scientists at Corning got there – and are getting to the next big thing.

If you’re reading this on your smartphone, there’s a good chance you’ve got your fingertip on a material that Ljerka Ukrainczyk and many others on Corning’s research, development, and engineering (RD&E) as well as its manufacturing teams helped bring into existence.

As the first woman development fellow at Corning, a distinction reserved only for those that make extraordinary technical contributions to the company’s portfolio, Ukrainczyk and the product development team that she leads, which includes individuals from the broader RD&E community at Corning, have developed products that have been designed into billions of devices we use every day, like Corning® Gorilla® Glass, the legendary tough cover glass for mobile devices.

She is widely recognized as a leading expert in various glass-processing technologies in the fields of 3D reforming, finishing, thermal processing, and equipment and process design. The work done by Ljerka and her team has – literally and figuratively – helped shape the way we interact with our mobile devices – and has helped to enable device manufacturers to create more and more advanced form factors.

But she is not alone in her research.

Ukrainczyk credits Corning’s culture of innovation – the sharing of institutional knowledge among the company’s technology community – with scientists’ ability to develop new, progress-pushing inventions.

Read below on how Ukrainczyk and the Corning team used Corning’s 173 years of materials science expertise as the launchpad for cutting-edge innovations.


Is the “eureka” moment actually real for scientists?

I’m not saying it never happens, but so much more often it’s like, “Let’s talk about ideas and alternative solutions.” Then, we perform modeling and go to the lab and experiment. The new innovations come through a lot of cross-functional teamwork. The classic eureka moments come from the evolution of progressive knowledge and a lot of modeling and experimenting with our teams’ ideas.

“The classic eureka moments come from the evolution of progressive knowledge and a lot of modeling and experimenting with our teams’ ideas,” Ljerka Ukrainczyk says

If “eureka” is a collective idea, how can scientists work together and really take advantage of institutional knowledge?

Knowledge transfer at Corning is rich and alive because many of our historic innovators and fellows still mentor younger, junior scientists, even after they’ve formally retired.

It’s very powerful for someone to retire and still really want to come to work when they could be exploring other paths or hobbies. It’s a testament to how much we believe in what we do. You’re having fun, and you want to keep learning and tackling those challenges.

It’s also imperative that we document our work through rigorous technical reports, to ensure that information is available to employees now and in the future.

Corning has played an integral role in advancing how we interact with modern devices. Given our knowledge transfer – and our general excitement for discovery – we’ll continue to unlock new ways that glass can move consumer electronics forward.

More recently, Corning has begun leveraging advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence to combine our institutional knowledge with new data and with the ideas we generate every day to accelerate innovation delivery.


How can a company help researchers stay technically relevant for so long, like Corning does?

There’s an aliveness to the work environment. There isn’t a monopolization of ideas by any one person or business, because we all work for the same team. We work for Corning.

Curiosity is widespread, and we’re always researching and looking into the scientific literature to solve problems. Recently, we sifted through old scientific papers on colored glass to learn about that field. We then used those learnings to push help us forward.

Corning has created this environment where you can come up with an idea and pitch it to your project leader or your manager and say, “I’d like to look into this.” That inquisitiveness is supported. Junior scientists have access to mentors whom they can bounce ideas off, which creates a potent combination of experience and fresh ways of looking at things.

I think of this as the “Corning way,” that an idea can be fostered and encouraged to grow into something that not only adds to our institutional knowledge, but that also drives us forward. It’s a large part of how we’ve been able to develop so many materials and technologies that are vital to the world’s progress.

Tough and optically clear, Ukraincyzk and her team developed the world’s first completely transparent glass ceramic cover material for consumer electronics.

How can past knowledge be a springboard for innovation?

When Corning commercialized the world’s first transparent low-haze glass ceramic cover material for mobile consumer electronics in 2020, many of those core principles came from generations of Corning’s learnings in the field of glass ceramics. This was a result of several years of research, development, and engineering and manufacturing scaleup, all done by a host of incredibly talented people.

One of the starting points in research was a particular family of ceramics that Corning originally developed for use in dental implants.

While Corning stopped working with dental implants a long time ago, we leaned on what we’d previously learned as a starting point. Obviously, a dental implant needs to be incredibly tough, and that toughness was a property that we wanted to carry over to our work in consumer electronics.

But that was just the starting point. Drawing on past knowledge gets you to a certain point, but what we are trying to do is break new ground. The Corning team laddered up from that foundation to invent a glass ceramic mobile device cover material, which was no easy feat, since this was a new-to-world innovation. Not only did we need to create a glass ceramic material tough enough to help your phone survive drops, but it also needed to be completely transparent to give it the desired optical performance.

This required an incredibly high degree of collaboration amongst people in different functions across the technical and manufacturing organizations of Corning. The knowledge that we were able to pool together from the decades of work we have done in glass ceramics helped immensely in developing what is one of the world’s toughest cover materials for consumer electronics products.


How does Corning – and Gorilla Glass in particular – approach the invention of new glass compositions?

We’re really pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with glass, and it takes many within the broader RD&E organization to accomplish that.

For our teams, innovation is not always linear or organized. It’s a living thing. Our scientists are constantly building on Corning’s historical knowledge to invent new and better approaches that improve the properties of the glass.

“Better” can mean many different things depending on the project, whether that’s drop performance, or it could be something that’s never been done before, like infusing native color into the glass compositions. Then, we optimize the compositions for manufacturing so that they can be scaled for mass production.

We have amazing engineering and manufacturing teams all over the world that are able to take what we learn in lab melts and on our research melters and quickly scale those compositions on manufacturing assets in the United States, Korea, and China.


Is it possible to tackle a host of technical problems at once?

The first rule is always to simplify the problem. If you try to solve everything at once, it gets overwhelming. If you design an experiment that’s way too complex, the data can get convoluted.

Think: What’s the most important question to solve. Then, once you have an answer, move to the next one.

Ukrainczyk and her team have developed products that have been designed into billions of devices we use every day, like Corning® Gorilla® Glass, the legendary tough cover glass for mobile devices.

What’s it like to see countless individuals touching the glass on their phone and know that Corning plays such a key role in developing those materials?

It’s thrilling, and I think that’s a super unique thing about working for Gorilla Glass. Given the technical challenges that this organization has to address to bring our innovations to market, it’s extremely rewarding.

Many of our glass compositions represent an enormous undertaking by many across Corning, not only for research and development but also across engineering and manufacturing. That deep collaboration, and the constant back-and-forth between the various teams throughout the innovation process, is what makes our work such a special and dynamic undertaking.

You see a product from conception, in small glass melts, all the way through to development, and finally into mass production. Then, once the glass innovations are featured on mobile devices, you get to see them in people’s hands. It’s amazing.


Further reading

Find out if Gorilla Glass makes your device tough

Here’s why you’re able to take professional-grade photos with your own device

Play the game and discover decades of Corning ingenuity