PerspectiveGlasses

Overcoming glass brittleness

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Science  15 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6467, pp. 804-805
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz2127

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Summary

The mechanical reliability of modern glass products underlies their diverse uses, which include touch panels and ultrathin flexible displays, lightweight containers, and energy-efficient windows. Most of these applications rely on chemically or thermally strengthened silicate glasses that are strong despite being brittle, but some, such as optical telecommunication fibers, take further advantage of the flexibility of thin materials. A new paradigm of glass materials could be envisioned if brittleness could be overcome by making glasses ductile. On page 864 of this issue, Frankberg et al. (1), using in situ transmission electron microscopy and molecular dynamics simulations, report conditions under which thin films of amorphous alumina (a-Al2O3) become ductile at room temperature. These results address the major challenge for creating “indestructible” glasses: initiating unconfined plasticity (irreversible deformation without fracture) that can dissipate mechanical stress within an otherwise rigid, disordered network of covalent bonds.

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