While techniques like tempering and laminating can help to strengthen glass, they are expensive and no longer work once the surface is damaged. For this reason, researchers at McGill University have developed a stronger and more resistant glass, inspired by the inner layer of mollusk shells .
Rather than breaking on impact, the new material has the strength of plastic and could be used to improve cell phone displays in the future, as well as other applications.
Imitation of mother of pearl
Inspired by nature, a new composite material of glass and acrylic has been created that mimics mother-of-pearl, as they took the architecture of mother-of-pearl and replicated it with layers of glass and acrylic flakes, producing an exceptionally strong but opaque material that can be produce easily and cheaply.
As Allen Ehrlicher , associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering at McGill University explains :
Until now there have been trade-offs between high strength, toughness and transparency. Our new material is not only three times stronger than normal glass, but also more than five times more resistant to breakage. (…) Surprisingly, mother-of-pearl has the stiffness of a rigid material and the durability of a soft material, giving you the best of both worlds. It is made of rigid pieces of chalk-like matter that are covered with soft proteins that are highly elastic. This structure produces exceptional resistance, making it 3,000 times more resistant than the materials that compose it.
Finally, they went one step further to make the compound optically transparent : by adjusting the refractive index of acrylic, they managed to get it to blend perfectly with glass to make a truly transparent compound. As next steps, they plan to improve it by incorporating smart technology that allows glass to change its properties, such as color, mechanics and conductivity.