Glass is one of the most useful materials in today's world, but its disadvantage is its tendency to crack or crumble. Researchers at McGill University have developed a new type of glass, inspired by a clam shell, which is stronger and harder, but still maintains good transparency.
The inner shimmering layer of a clam shell is actually the secret to its strength. The microscopic structure of this material, known as nacre, resembles masonry: plates of hard calcium carbonate interspersed with soft, elastic biopolymers. This structure not only increases strength, but also prevents cracking.
In previous work, researchers at McGill mimicked nacre by etching microscopic cracks in glass with a laser, and although this improved strength and stiffness, it reduced transparency. In the new study, the team replicated the structure using a composite of glass flakes and acrylic that act as hard plates and soft elastic plates, respectively.
To keep the material transparent, the researchers changed the refractive index of the acrylic so that it matched the refractive index of the glass. The result is a material that is much stronger and stiffer than conventional glass, but remains transparent.
The team says the method could be scalable and the resulting material could be useful for creating stronger displays for smartphones and other devices. In future work, the researchers plan to explore ways to change the color, conductivity and other properties of the material.
Source: mcgill, science