The world’s thinnest glass was created in Jan. 2013. It was an accidental creation, but one that was noticed by a few and published in the Guinness Book of World Records 2014 edition. The glass that was created was as small as it can get, being all of two atoms thick, making it the thinnest glass every created and earning a place in the record books.
A joint project of scientists from Cornell University, in the U.S., and University of Ulm, in Germany, set out to create an atom thick layer of graphite. Graphite, most associated with pencils, is an allotrope of carbon, one that is a semimetal, which makes it a conductor of electricity, and the most stable forms of carbon understand standard conditions.
The group was attempting to form this atom thick sheet of graphite in a copper and quarts furnace. Once they had completed the process, they noticed something was on the graphite that had been created, a kind of “muck.” This “muck” turned out to be a two atom thick layer of glass.
Glass, which is made up of oxygen and silicon atoms, is a strange substance that has properties of being both a solid and liquid. It is believed that the glass formed on the graphite due to an oxygen leak in the furnace during the heating process. The quarts making up the furnace is also a composite of oxygen and silicon, which may explain why the glass formed. However it may have come about, it remains a very happy accident to create a record book holding glass that is the thinnest possible.
The understanding of glass has been perplexing to scientists for a long time. As you may be aware, it is understood to have properties like both a liquid and a solid. It is ridged, but it does not seem to make the same kind of ridged structures on an atomic level like most solid structures do. It is also pliable, where over time the glass will be pulled toward earth. This is why stained glass in old cathedrals are thinner at the top and thicker at the bottom; which seems to indicate it is a liquid, even if it is moving extremely slowly.
David Muller, a professor of applied and engineering physics at Cornell University, was very excited to discover the thin sheet of glass, calling it the most important product of his career. Being the first time that anyone has been able to actually see an arrangement of glass atoms, it has the potential to answer all the perplexing questions of this common material.
This ultra thin layer of glass that has formed, however, is shedding some light on what glass looks like on an atomic scale. The pictures taken of it on an electron microscope reveals a structure that looks amazingly similar to a diagram drawn by W. H. Zachariasen in 1932.
What makes this unintentional creation exciting is its possible application in nanotechnology. Being a stable structure of two atom’s thick means it could have a lot of applications in smaller and smaller machines. It could be used to create insulation from an outside environment, as a transistor for a variety of electrical process, or the basic framework from which to build into and from. Only time will tell, however, as scientists study the material to fully understand how it truly works. Truly, the thinnest glass ever created will hold a place in not only world record books, but future text books of structural materials and physics.
Written by: Iam Bloom