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DoE Develops Flexible Glass Stronger Than Steel 242

Posted by Soulskill
from the whale-tested,-scotsman-approved dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Department of Energy Office of Science recently collaborated with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology to develop a resilient yet malleable new type of glass that is stronger than steel. The material can also be molded, and it bends when subjected to stress instead of shattering. The glass is actually a microalloy and features metallic elements such as palladium. This metal has a high 'bulk-to-shear' stiffness ratio that counteracts the intrinsic brittleness of glassy materials. The team that developed the material believes that by changing various ratios, they could make it even stronger."
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DoE Develops Flexible Glass Stronger Than Steel

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  • Scottie's here! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:07PM (#34907554)

    Awesome!

    • by Talderas (1212466)

      It's been compared to steel....

      So is this more a case of Star Trek winning (transparent aluminum) or Star Wars winning (transparisteel)?

      • It's been compared to steel....

        So is this more a case of Star Trek winning (transparent aluminum) or Star Wars winning (transparisteel)?

        They both lose.

        The initial samples of the new metallic glass were microalloys of palladium with phosphorous, silicon and germanium that yielded glass rods approximately one millimeter in diameter. Adding silver to the mix enabled the Cal Tech researchers to expand the thickness of the glass rods to six millimeters.

        No steel/iron or aluminum at all in the mixture, at least according to the article.. :-)

      • I think, the reference to Transparent Aluminum is at least specified in ST:IV. while Transparisteel cannot be considered canon as is not referenced in any movie. Or is it?

        Anyway, Transparent Aluminium is almost a reality, as we've already seen [slashdot.org].

        Maybe this discovery will give some credibility to the Star Wars Universe.
  • by drumcat (1659893) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:07PM (#34907558)
    Transparent Aluminum!?!
  • If it didn't, that would be great encouragement to find a faster, cheaper manufacturing method.
    • by jo_ham (604554)

      Only if there's iron in it.

    • I just wonder how heavy it is, the article doesn't seem to mention anything about that. Though of course even if it's very heavy it would probably be good for armour plating.

  • Alas... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solar Granulation (1943072) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:13PM (#34907656)
    It is NOT transparent.
  • Archologies or "mini-archologies", anyone?
  • by Nkwe (604125) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:19PM (#34907746)
    Just asking.
  • by tyrione (134248) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:34PM (#34907972) Homepage
    The real mystery was uncovered at John Hopkins University:

    Remember? http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060126190325.htm [sciencedaily.com]

    The metallic glass research was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Along with Sheng and Ma, the authors of the Nature article included Weikun Luo, a Johns Hopkins doctoral student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; F. M Alamgir of the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and J. M. Bai of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

    This news today is the next step in bringing these realities to market. Bravo to them all.

    • by HiThere (15173)

      Yeah, but the next step is finding a cheaper substitute for palladium. That might be a bit tricky. (Not the cheap part. Most things are cheaper. The substitute part.)

  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:35PM (#34907988)

    What does stronger than steel actually mean? A spider web is stronger than steel, but I walk through them all the time. A diamond is stronger than steel, but I can hit it with a hammer and it smashes. Stronger than steel sounds good, but just like foods that say they are all natural, doesn't mean anything.

    • by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:45PM (#34908086)
      Diamond ranks high on hardness, not strength (diamond used to be high point of hardness scale, but I think they have since discovered harder substances) What we usually refer to as strength is tensile strength, the point at which it breaks when you try to stretch it. Spider webs have a very high tensile strength for their cross sectional area. You "walk though them all the time" because the strands have a very small cross sectional area -- you could also walk through strands of steel of the same diameter. So all they are saying is that a strand of this new "glass" will withstand greater force than a strand of steel of the same diameter.
    • by amliebsch (724858) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:47PM (#34908100) Journal

      Diamonds are harder than steel, not stronger. Spider silk is stronger than steel, but not nearly as hard. (And incredibly thin.) This implies that a cable made of spider silk should be able to withstand more strain than a steel cable of the same size. On the other hand, a bridge supported by spider silk trusses will be far less sturdy than one made from steel trusses.

    • by vlm (69642) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:55PM (#34908200)

      What does stronger than steel actually mean?

      Depends on your industry, but often, tensile strength per unit area. In the us that would be thousands of pounds pulling apart a chunk of steel of one square inch cross section. This is kind of important in the wire rope and chain industries, on the other hand piston makers or knife makers might have an alternative opinion. Anyway tensile KPSI values 20 and under is junk tier like Walmart China products, 50 is the good stuff, and over 200 is strange Swedish alloys made by gnomes in a secretive process that costs about as much per pound as sterling silver and only .mil can afford it.

      For marketing / PR purposes, yes it means nothing. Just like calling machined parts "billet" means absolutely nothing. A billet used to be a slight step up from an ingot that you'd smoosh in a forge press before machining. Now all it means is its overpriced and probably shiny.

      • What does stronger than steel actually mean?

        Depends on your industry, but often, tensile strength per unit area. In the us that would be thousands of pounds pulling apart a chunk of steel of one square inch cross section. This is kind of important in the wire rope and chain industries, on the other hand piston makers or knife makers might have an alternative opinion. Anyway tensile KPSI values 20 and under is junk tier like Walmart China products, 50 is the good stuff, and over 200 is strange Swedish alloys made by gnomes in a secretive process that costs about as much per pound as sterling silver and only .mil can afford it.

        For marketing / PR purposes, yes it means nothing. Just like calling machined parts "billet" means absolutely nothing. A billet used to be a slight step up from an ingot that you'd smoosh in a forge press before machining. Now all it means is its overpriced and probably shiny.

        And for the really exotic stuff try plain old piano wire at ~360 ksi tensile strength. (I think this is the bar, if their glass has better than 360 ksi tensile strength I would think it fair to call it stronger than steel.)

      • by fnj (64210) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:52PM (#34908802)

        "Strong as" or "stronger than" steel is a popular and meaningless phrase. Various grades of steel are all over the place in terms of strength.

        In terms of yield strength, annealed 1118 is 41 ksi. "High strength" steel used in submarine hulls is around 80 ksi. Annealed 4340 is 69 ksi; normalized, it's 125 ksi, while heat treated, it can be as high as 243 ksi or as low as 124 ksi, depending on the degree of treatment. You can see why 4130 and 4340 tubes have been used in aircraft structures as long ago as the 1920's or before, and are also good for automobile engine connecting rods. They are also cheap, readily available, and not only made by gnomes in Sweden. Ordinary steel piano wire has a tensile strength over 300 ksi.

        Thus, a particular grade of, for example, high strength precipitation hardening aluminum alloy, say 7075-T6, with a yield strength of 73 ksi, is stronger than some steels and decidedly less strong than other steels.

        Strength alone is never the only consideration in practical terms. Ductility and toughness are also important.

    • It's not a meaningless statement. Spider silk is stronger then steel... it's also remarkably thin. A spider web made of steel strands that were only 3 microns thick would also be easy to walk through. Strength is also different from toughness. Things like diamonds which can not withstand sharp impacts are not tough, but they can still be strong.

    • What does stronger than steel actually mean? A spider web is stronger than steel, but I walk through them all the time. A diamond is stronger than steel, but I can hit it with a hammer and it smashes. Stronger than steel sounds good, but just like foods that say they are all natural, doesn't mean anything.

      Umm, what? Strength is usually "Tensile Strength", which is expressed in relation to the cross sectional area. Spider webs are extremely thin, so they're not that strong. I think just about everyone knows that smaller thinner things are weaker. That's why we can crumble aluminum foil in our hands, but Audi can still make car frames out of aluminum, or why bridges are made of steel but I can bend a paper-clip with my fingers...

      What world do you live in where it isn't perfectly obvious why something that is e

    • by vinng86 (1978262)

      The article summary, as usual, is incorrect. The article itself is much MUCH more accurate because the summary fails to make the distincting between strength and toughness.

      Strength generally refers to the yield strength which is the highest point on the elastic portion of a stress strain curve. Beyond that stress the material undergoes plastic deformation which means it'll be deformed even when the stress is removed. Toughness refers to the amount of energy that can be absorbed by the material before it bre

    • by afidel (530433)
      FTFA demonstrating a strength and toughness beyond that of any known material meaning it is both rigid and non-brittle.
  • by JSBiff (87824) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:42PM (#34908050) Journal

    I'm curious, does anyone have links to any resources which might explain the Department of Energy's involvement? Not that DoE can't be involved in basic materials research, but I suppose that they must have some sort of energy-related application in mind for such a material. I'm curious how this might advance energy?

    I can imagine a LOT of potential uses for it, but a lot of those uses also would rely on other properties (not just strength), from structural, to piping, to casting boilers/reactors/turbines out of the material, to creating energy storage flywheels, storage containers for used nuclear fuel, etc, which all seem like a stronger material might be useful, but I honestly don't know enough to evaluate whether those would actually be potential uses for such a material? Is there some *particular* need for which steel is currently used, but steel is considered not as good a material as they actually need?

    • by nschubach (922175)

      My guess is that they invested to find a material that could be used for energy, but found one that had structural benefit. I don't find it surprising really, advances in science happen across a broad range of fields and uses (ie: Radar -> Kitchen cooking tool)

    • by vlm (69642)

      I'm curious, does anyone have links to any resources which might explain the Department of Energy's involvement? ... Is there some *particular* need for which steel is currently used, but steel is considered not as good a material as they actually need?

      If its tensile strength is unimaginably higher than anything else ever manufactured etc etc as the article claims, it would make an awesome uranium centrifuge rotor. The DoE really likes those and their overall efficiency scales as something ridiculous like the fifth power of the rotor tensile strength per unit volume or something like that. Think about it... its one of those rare apps where the cost pretty much doesn't matter because of the dollar value of the product.

  • Remember Aerogel? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snsh (968808) on Monday January 17, 2011 @03:48PM (#34908108)
    Twenty years ago, we though NASA's aerogel was going to be everywhere today. It promised the light-transmission and strength of regular glass, while being literally light as a feather and the best thermal insulator known to man. It seemed like eventually you could build entire houses out of this stuff.

    Today, aerogel is nowhere to be found as a structural material, probably because it's so expensive. They do put pulverized aerogel into shoe insoles as insulation for mountain climbing, and you can buy a gumball-sized chunk of aerogel on eBay for USD$20 or so. I still wonder why nobody ever managed to get the cost down.
    • Aerogel is so light and fluffy, you can easily crush it between two fingers. That's my understanding, anyway (I haven't actually touched the stuff).
    • Re:Remember Aerogel? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:14PM (#34908432)

      Twenty years ago, we though NASA's aerogel was going to be everywhere today. It promised the light-transmission and strength of regular glass, while being literally light as a feather and the best thermal insulator known to man. It seemed like eventually you could build entire houses out of this stuff.

      First of all its a general class of materials, its a gel (think jello) with the bulk substrate removed (think dehydrated jello). So its like talking about making stuff out of "metal" as opposed to "SAE 316L certified steel".

      The second thing is its been around in some form or another for about 80 years now, not 20.

      The third thing is all the manufacturing processes (as far as I know) involve replacing the substrate with supercritical solvent and venting out the solvent. Which, given typical supercritical vapor pressures, usually means the manufacturing plant occasionally blows up. An easy thing to remember is supercritical CO2 needs equipment built to a hundred bar. The actual number is closer to 70, but whatever, "a hundred" is easier to remember...

      Standard slashdot car analogy, your car tires run about 2 bar, and mechanics at tire shops regularly get killed when they're inflated and they blow apart, tire cages or not. So to make an aerogel the size of a car tire, you need to inflate / deflate a tank running about 50 or so times the pressure. Your average greasemonkey would probably not retire with a pension from an aerogel factory.

      I believe the sweeds blew a factory completely up in the 80s. Pressure vessel failures are such a PITA.

      Also the process is inherently batch. Every modern industry relies on constant process, from steel to ipod assembly lines. Not gonna have widespread aerogel until someone figures out a continuous flow process.

      • Re:Remember Aerogel? (Score:4, Informative)

        by danhaas (891773) on Monday January 17, 2011 @08:03PM (#34910556)
        I work in the oil industry, and I'm currently working with steam at that pressure level; miles of tubing and a dozen flow control bases. You gotta be very careful with anything that might leak, like valves and connections, don't try to mess with anything while it's pressured, etc

        Nothing has happened here yet, but from accident reports with that pressure level, I can say it is enough to bend steel tubes like a fireman's hose bends when no one is holding it (of course the tubes rip open more easily, but the mechanics is the same). And when the big pressure vessels explode, the radius of the debris is in the order of kilometers (think ballistic style) and the sound radius is in the order of dozens of kilometers.

    • by Solandri (704621)
      I thought a vacuum was the best thermal insulator known to man?
  • Heck yeah, I see someone went back in time to give us the formula for transparent aluminum! :)

  • ... CAN throw rocks?
  • Unfortunately its ingredients also make it an almost unaffordable unobtainium for now, with the first applications expected small enough to crown ... neither your house nor your next iPhone, but (according to Technology Review) probably your teeth [technologyreview.com] for a lifetime.
  • by nomadic (141991)
    I thought the Slashdot Consensus(tm) was that the government never invents anything ever as an absolute rule with no deviation.
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:00PM (#34908266)
    Sorry to ruin your trekky fantasies, but we already have transparent aluminum.

    There is an article about it here [howstuffworks.com], and many more if you search.

    Admittedly, it was developed after the movie.
    • Admittedly, it was developed after the movie.

      And you believe that's a coincidence?!?

      • Not necessarily. Of course, it isn't made anywhere near the same way as the stuff in the movie (I don't seem to remember the molecule being shown on the computer containing a nitride) but maybe it was an inspiration to somebody. Who knows?
  • Not SiO2 glass (Score:5, Informative)

    by pz (113803) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:04PM (#34908306) Journal

    When most people say the word, "glass," they mean something that's usually clear, usually brittle, usually an electrical insulator, has poor thermal conductivity, and is mostly impervious to solvents. Stuff like what's used to make windowpanes and drinking glasses. The main material in these is silicon dioxide (SiO2), and the "glass" refers to the fact that it is not a crystal, but an unordered solid. SiO2 crystals are called quartz. Note that most glass, using the vernacular meaning, is not microcrystalline, but truly unordered. This is what gives SiO2 glass, using the scientific meaning, some of its interesting properties, like the lack of a fixed melting point. Wax can often (not always, but often) be thought of as a hydrocarbon glass. Many plastics are also glasssy because they are amorphous at the molecular level as well.

    The glass referred to in the article is a metallic glass, and is not transparent. The reason glassy metals are interesting is because of their unusual mechanical properties. The reason they are difficult to make is that when metal cools, it really, really, really likes to form crystals. The only way to get metals to form unordered glassy substances is to cool them extraordinarily quickly, essentially freezing each atom in its location from the liquid modality. Recent research, such as used in the linked article, has developed alloys that don't require extraordinary cooling rates, but still result in an unordered solid.

    • Back in the materials engineering classes glass was defined as being "a supercooled liquid of infinite viscosity" .. but looking now it seems that it'd be more accurate to refer to it as an 'amorphous solid'

      Glass, however, is actually neither a liquid—supercooled or otherwise—nor a solid. It is an amorphous solid—a state somewhere between those two states of matter. And yet glass's liquidlike properties are not enough to explain the thicker-bottomed windows, because glass atoms move too slowly for changes to be visible.

      Solids are highly organized structures. They include crystals, like sugar and salt, with their millions of atoms lined up in a row, explains Mark Ediger, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "Liquids and glasses don't have that order," he notes. Glasses, though more organized than liquids, do not attain the rigid order of crystals. "Amorphous means it doesn't have that long-range order," Ediger says. With a "solid—if you grab it, it holds its shape," he adds.

      When glass is made, the material (often containing silica) is quickly cooled from its liquid state but does not solidify when its temperature drops below its melting point. At this stage, the material is a supercooled liquid, an intermediate state between liquid and glass. To become an amorphous solid, the material is cooled further, below the glass-transition temperature. Past this point, the molecular movement of the material's atoms has slowed to nearly a stop and the material is now a glass. This new structure is not as organized as a crystal, because it did not freeze, but it is more organized than a liquid. For practical purposes, such as holding a drink, glass is like a solid, Ediger says, although a disorganized one.

      Like liquids, these disorganized solids can flow, albeit very slowly. Over long periods of time, the molecules making up the glass shift themselves to settle into a more stable, crystallike formation, explains Ediger. The closer the glass is to its glass-transition temperature, the more it shifts; the further away from that changeover point, the slower its molecules move and the more solid it seems.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-fiction-glass-liquid [scientificamerican.com]

  • Brings up an interesting new concern for Airport Screening! Transparent and Stronger then Steel! Hmmmmm...
  • by nuckfuts (690967) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:22PM (#34908518)

    The initial samples of the new metallic glass... yielded glass rods approximately one millimeter in diameter. Adding silver to the mix enabled the Cal Tech researchers to expand the thickness of the glass rods to six millimeters.

    So it's not as though they're making windows panes out of this stuff, but it's interesting nonetheless. The way they create an amorphous structure is fascinating:

    The size of the metallic glass is limited by the need to rapidly cool or “quench” the liquid metals for the final amorphous structure. The rule of thumb is that to make a metallic glass we need to have at least five elements so that when we quench the material, it doesn’t know what crystal structure to form and defaults to amorphous.

    It sounds as though innovations in the quenching process might enable larger shapes, or perhaps even sheets, to be produced.

    • by Jonah Hex (651948)

      Considering the paragraph before the one you quoted specifies they are working currently with one millimeter diameter and six millimeter, I think it'll be quite a while before they can create anything larger, especially sheets.

      The initial samples of the new metallic glass were microalloys of palladium with phosphorous, silicon and germanium that yielded glass rods approximately one millimeter in diameter. Adding silver to the mix enabled the Cal Tech researchers to expand the thickness of the glass rods to

  • palladium? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday January 17, 2011 @04:36PM (#34908646)
    palladium? Part of the platinum group, and the reason catalytic converters cost so much money? The mining of palladium is so toxic that the primary site that it's mine at, Norilsk Russia is considered to be one of the most polluted places on earth.

    http://www.aboutinteresting.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/norilsk-russia.jpg

    Good one guys.

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