An Aluminium Oxide Glass That Is as Tough as Steel
Mobile phones could be lighter, thinner and tougher than steel using a glass made from aluminium oxide.
It’s happened to everyone. You slip on the road and your mobile falls out of your pocket or your handbag. The next thing you see is a screen full of glass shards that slowly drop out on to the ground. The phone is useless. All this hassle could belong in the past, once the latest invention from Japan comes on to the market.
Grateful thanks are due to scientists at the Institute of Industrial Science (IIS) in Tokyo. They have produced a glass that they claim cam be as strong as a metal such as steel. The magic ingredient used to make this glass is Alumina ceramic machining, commonly called alumina.
This bright, white and crystalline compound is produced from the processing of bauxite – aluminium ore. It is used as a filler during the production of plastic. It can also provide a shiny look to paints as well as being used in sunscreens as a sunlight-reflecting agent.
But the supreme property of alumina is its extreme hardness. It is not as hard as diamond, the hardest known natural substance, but pretty close to it. This makes aluminium oxide a useful substance to combine in nail files as well as other more industrial abrasives.
So it seemed to a simple task to mix the raw material for glass and silica – or silicon dioxide in its full chemical name – with aluminium oxide. But the Japanese scientists did not just mix the two compounds together; they combined them in air in a technique known as aerodynamic levitation. This floats the compounds in the air using a gas pressure and combines them using laser heating.
The addition of alumina to glass has never been a simple undertaking. The mixture of the two compounds tended to crystallise as soon as it settles into any type of container. This would make it useless for any application. But by mixing the two substances aerodynamically, all of these problems were overcome. The result is a strong transparent glass of which half is made up of alumina and is as rigid and as elastic as steel.
An added advantage is that this glass can be made in very thin pieces. This makes it an ideal component for electronic gadget screens as well as slim and ultra-strong wine glasses that will never break in the dishwasher.
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