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Bendable Glass Engineered to Resist Shattering

As the number of touchscreens has expanded, so has the scourge of the cracked glass. Tablets and smartphones take a lot of tumbles, and if you haven’t busted the glass on one yet, you’re a rare bird, indeed.

Now researchers at McGill University’s department of mechanical engineering have come up with a potential fix that could create shatter-proof glass for computer screens and other applications. In a recent article in Nature Communications, they report on their work with glass that is pre-cracked using lasers. This creates fissures that are then filled with polyurethane to create a new kind of glass that bends on impact. Their inspiration: mollusks.

According to Professor Francois Barthelat, the interior of mollusk shells are coated with nacre (mother-of-pearl), which is structured kind of like small Legos that are interlocked. Using the nacre as a model, the team used lasers to engrave a network of 3D micro-cracks in glass slides. They were able to increase the durability of the slides by up to 200 times.

“What we know now is that we can toughen glass, or other materials, by using patterns of micro-cracks to guide larger cracks, and in the process absorb the energy from an impact. We chose to work with glass because we wanted to work with the archetypal brittle material. But we plan to go on to work with ceramics and polymers in future. Observing the natural world can clearly lead to improved man-made designs.” —Francois Barthelat, McGill University

The group believes the process can easily scale up to any size sheet of glass.

Source: Nature Communications

About Brian Albright

Brian Albright is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.