Technique paves way for shatter-proof glass

Taking inspiration from natural structures like seashells and teeth, researchers in Canada have been able to significantly increase the toughness of glass.

A team led by Professor Fran├žois Barthelat at Montreal's McGill University has created a technique that could stop glass from shattering when it hits the floor.

Indeed, Prof Barthelat says items made using the technology will simply bend or deform slightly.

To begin, the researchers studied the weaker interfaces of natural materials like nacre, which can channel propagating cracks into toughening configurations.

They then sought to imitate these features and implement them into glass, using a laser engraving technique.

In doing so, the researchers were able to increase the toughness of glass slides (the kind of glass rectangles that get put under microscopes) by 200 times compared to non-engraved slides.

"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," says Barthelat.

"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."

Author
Laura Hopperton

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