Strange properties of glass explainedPosted: July 18, 2008
Although glass is a hard, seeemingly solid substance, we’ve known for a while that the atoms are actually able to move but jammed, like cars in gridlock.
Because atoms are too small to see directly, scientists have approached the problem of exploring the structure of glass by using a substance (called a colloidal gel) that behaves and look like glass at a molecular level but forms structures large enough to see. What they’ve found is that the icosahedral shapes formed by the atoms in glass as it cools prevent the atoms from crystallising into a regular lattice.
As , the Univeristy of Bristol’s Paddy Royall explains:
“An icosahedron is like a 3-D pentagon, and just as you cannot tile a floor with pentagons, you cannot fill 3-D space with icosahedrons… Without a regular structure, the atoms are caught between the solid and liquid phases.”
In future, this understanding could be applied to the manufacturing of materials that are light, strong and flexible materials that don’t experience stresses like most metals.