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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Flexing Glass

Air Date: Week of

Glass that bends? Meghan Vigeant reports.



VIGEANT: Oh No! It looks like it’s headed straight for the…


VIGEANT: Uh oh! Sorry, mom.

Well, that’s what happens when you apply sudden pressure to most glass. Old-fashioned glass is a strangely fragile substance. It’s made of silicon dioxide - sand, that’s melted and then cooled again into a semi-solid state. It’s hard like a solid but its atomic structure is more like a liquid. So when something hits it, it shatters easily.

Scientists have tinkered with the ingredients of glass over the years and have added substances that can make it less quick to shatter. But what if instead of breaking at all, it bent?

Well, scientists at the Chinese Academy of Science have changed the rules of the glass game. They took an existing form of glass containing the metals zirconium, aluminum, copper and nickel and added some new substances - they won’t say what. The result is a glass that bends like copper wire. Atomically it’s made up of hard spots and soft spots. So as you apply pressure instead of cracking the strain is dissipated throughout the whole piece allowing the glass to bend.

Though bendable glass is far from the market, it could mean a whole new ballgame for buildings, safer cars and even better sports equipment. It could be helpful to homes in hurricane and earthquake zones. Well, with prospects like that, I’d say this new bendable metallic glass is batting a thousand.

That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Meghan Vigeant. Now let’s play ball!




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