Scientists from McGill University have developed a new type of glass inspired by the inner layer of mollusk shell. When the glass they have developed suffers an impact, rather than shattering like normal glass, it has resiliency similar to plastic. Researchers on the project see their new glass as ideal for covering cell phone screens and other applications.
University researchers say that glass can be tempered and laminated for reinforcement, but those processes are expensive, and the surfaces damaged no longer offer additional protection. The new glass is three times stronger than normal glass while being five times more fracture resistant. The glass was developed with inspiration from nature and is a glass and acrylic composite similar to mother of pearl.
Mother of pearl is an interesting material because it is rigid like a stiff material but has the durability of the soft material. Its structure is created with pieces of a chalk-like material layered with soft proteins that are highly elastic. As a result, mother of pearl is a very strong structure, 3000 times tougher than the materials that make up the composite.
The team investigated the architecture of mother of pearl then replicated it with layers of glass flakes and acrylic, creating an opaque and exceptionally strong material. Another important aspect of the new glass is that it’s easy and inexpensive to produce. The result is a truly transparent composite material.
In the future, the team hopes to improve their new unbreakable glass by incorporating technology that allows the glass to change properties, including color, mechanics, and conductivity. Unfortunately, there’s no indication of when this glass might be commercialized at this time. However, with its durability and transparency, it certainly sounds like something smartphone manufacturers would embrace.