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Science Technology

Researchers Create Glass Just 3 Atoms Thick 160

Posted by timothy
from the barely-a-glaze dept.
sciencehabit writes "Researchers have created the world's thinnest pane of glass. The glass, made of silicon and oxygen, formed accidentally when the scientists were making graphene, an atom-thick sheet of carbon, on copper-covered quartz. They believe an air leak caused the copper to react with the quartz, which is also made of silicon and oxygen, producing a glass layer with the graphene. The glass is a mere three atoms thick — the minimum thickness of silica glass—which makes it two-dimensional. The team notes that the structure 'strikingly resembles' a diagram drawn by a glass theorist attempting to unravel its structure back in 1932. Such ultra-thin glass could be used in semiconductor or graphene transistors." See Nano Letters for an abstract (and another picture) to the paywalled article.
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Researchers Create Glass Just 3 Atoms Thick

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  • by Hieronymus Howard (215725) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:12AM (#38914205)

    And in related news, iPad 4 rumored to be just 2mm thick.

  • Two-dimensional? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Scutter (18425) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:17AM (#38914259) Journal

    The glass is a mere three atoms thick — the minimum thickness of silica glass—which makes it two-dimensional.

    It's not two dimensional if it has a measurable thickness, which you stated in that same sentence. Unless you have a different definition of "two dimensional" than the rest of us.

    • by DSS11Q13 (1853164) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:23AM (#38914309)

      Perhaps it just had a bland personality?

    • by operagost (62405)
      This must be one of those theoretical physicist jokes, like a spherical cow.
      • by sjames (1099)

        Topographically speaking, a cow is a torus. Astrologically speaking, it's a Taurus.

        • by qeveren (318805)

          Can't be a standard torus. You forgot about the nostrils.

        • by treeves (963993)

          Topologically, not topographically. Topographically, cows are oval brown spots, but you have to zoom way in to see them.

    • Re:Two-dimensional? (Score:5, Informative)

      by tungstencoil (1016227) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:26AM (#38914371)

      It's not two dimensional if it has a measurable thickness, which you stated in that same sentence. Unless you have a different definition of "two dimensional" than the rest of us.

      Someone posted that same criticism in the article. Here is someone's reply (again, from the comments). I'm not a chemist or physicist, but what they say sounds reasonable:

      Hi Heather - fair enough, it's not 2D as in the mathematical concept, but 2D has a physical meaning as well - the thinnest version of a material. Because the silicon and oxygen atoms don't lay flat, glass needs a minimum of three layers of atoms (two silicon and one oxygen) to form a chemically stable sheet. Inside some of these technically 3D ultrathin materials, the electrons behave like their world is two dimensional.

      • by Scutter (18425)

        It's not two dimensional if it has a measurable thickness, which you stated in that same sentence. Unless you have a different definition of "two dimensional" than the rest of us.

        Someone posted that same criticism in the article. Here is someone's reply (again, from the comments). I'm not a chemist or physicist, but what they say sounds reasonable:

        Hi Heather - fair enough, it's not 2D as in the mathematical concept, but 2D has a physical meaning as well - the thinnest version of a material. Because the silicon and oxygen atoms don't lay flat, glass needs a minimum of three layers of atoms (two silicon and one oxygen) to form a chemically stable sheet. Inside some of these technically 3D ultrathin materials, the electrons behave like their world is two dimensional.

        Ok, I can accept that.

    • Molecularly
    • Re:Two-dimensional? (Score:5, Informative)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:33AM (#38914481)

      I believe they're calling it two dimensional because it's the minimum thickness possible, so for practical purposes, the thickness is equal to a single point. You can argue semantics all you want, but if you were to "travel" on a glass sheet, you would only be able to go along the X axis or Y axis - there is no ability to travel along a Z axis that is only a single point.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        Thats just it atoms have measurable sizes therefore it cant be a single point.

        To put it in perspective if you look at the solar system from the side since it is only one planet thick then it is only a point.

        Atoms have orbits wuth measurable distancesunderstanding those distance is a huge part of engineering on that level.

        It can never be 2D. Thinking it as such limits understanding.

        • Yes, atoms have a measurable size and all that, but from a *practical* perspective, it's a single point in thickness. As another posted quoted, the atoms behave as if they're in a two dimensional environment. Mathematical concepts don't always translate well into the physical world, but it helps to think of something as being two dimensional if it behaves as if its truly two dimensional.

      • More importantly, it is so thin it is transparent!! ;-)

    • Re:Two-dimensional? (Score:4, Informative)

      by koolguy442 (888336) on Friday February 03, 2012 @11:17AM (#38915127)

      The glass is a mere three atoms thick — the minimum thickness of silica glass—which makes it two-dimensional.

      It's not two dimensional if it has a measurable thickness, which you stated in that same sentence. Unless you have a different definition of "two dimensional" than the rest of us.

      Your question can be answered in two ways. First, in the materials science community, it's common to denote a material or chunk of material that has a very high aspect ratio, for instance very large in one or two dimensions and small in size on the order of the atomic scale in the remaining directions as effectively one- and two-dimensional. In fact, quantum dots are thought of in materials science as generally zero-dimensional, even though they most certainly have more than one atom (and even if they comprised a single atom, the electron cloud extends in three dimensions). So, as far as the materials science and electron microscopy fields are concerned, this is two-dimensional.

      Second, you tend to get your paper published in fancier journals and grab more headlines by having sensational things such as 2D (in this case) or quantum or some such buzzword in your title these days.

    • by Artifakt (700173) on Friday February 03, 2012 @11:20AM (#38915165)

      It's two dimensional, in that the graph of the atomic bonds is a flat, 2 dimensional graph. That's not "a different definition ... than the rest of us", that's called context. It's the definition a chemist would normally use. If you're trying to prove your brilliance by pointing out that the whole universe has nothing physical that is infinitely thin, sorry, but we stopped giving away Nobel prizes for that. At least four people basically modded you insightful for pointing out that atoms are not infinitely small - that makes Slashdot clearly three dimensional, because we have something infinitely thick around here.

    • Re:Two-dimensional? (Score:5, Informative)

      by fredrated (639554) on Friday February 03, 2012 @11:22AM (#38915199) Journal

      From a post by the author at TFA:
      "Inside some of these technically 3D ultrathin materials, the electrons behave like their world is two dimensional."

      • by Z00L00K (682162)

        And then it would be interesting to see what properties this thin wafer actually has. There's a chance that this can behave in a different way compared to ordinary glass.

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      The glass is a mere three atoms thick — the minimum thickness of silica glass—which makes it two-dimensional.

      It's not two dimensional if it has a measurable thickness, which you stated in that same sentence. Unless you have a different definition of "two dimensional" than the rest of us.

      The space it occupies is certainly 3 dimensional but that doesn't stop it from having properties that only exist in 2 dimensions, such as: if you take this bit off the "top" it is also missing from the "bottom"... To a scientist/researcher, this is an important distinction when the applications all come from combining layers of certain materials. Would you say the visible surface of a piece of paper is a 3 dimensional one? You could answer yes, and you would be pedantically correct, but for any practical

    • by sjames (1099)

      In the sense of chemical bonds and structure, it is primarily limited to two degrees of freedom, and so, is two dimensional. Much like we call a photograph two dimensional even though photographic paper has a thickness.

    • The glass is a mere three atoms thick — the minimum thickness of silica glass—which makes it two-dimensional.

      It's not two dimensional if it has a measurable thickness, which you stated in that same sentence. Unless you have a different definition of "two dimensional" than the rest of us.

      It can't be made thinner and remain glass, so within the context of being glass, it is essentially two dimensional.

    • by Khashishi (775369)

      It can be treated as 2D in some models, because the structure along one direction is simple enough to be treated as an ignorable direction. Similarly, some aspects of chemistry that occurs in a lipid bilayer can be treated as 2D, not because there is no thickness, but because the thickness isn't a significant degree of freedom for the configurations of molecules in the surface.

      Another common reason to make use of a 2D physical model is when one dimension is very large (ideally infinite) and uniform compared

  • by Lumpy (12016)

    More glass cellphones with easy to break screens and backs!

    • Re:OH yay (Score:5, Funny)

      by ackthpt (218170) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:26AM (#38914373) Homepage Journal

      More glass cellphones with easy to break screens and backs!

      Easy?!? I've pounded on these things with my finger when they don't .. do .. what .. I .. effing .. want I assume you are wearing metal gauntlets, Sir Lumpy of Oatmealshire.

      • You must have never dropped an iPhone 4/S from a foot up on something that isn't memory foam.
        • My wife dropped hers from chest height, (Probably around 4 feet, she's a fairly tall woman) onto a a train track rail. We were fully expecting to have our next stop be the AT&T store, but the phone was completely undamaged. I'm not saying they're indestructible, but they seem study enough for day to day use.

          • by isorox (205688)

            My wife dropped hers from chest height, (Probably around 4 feet, she's a fairly tall woman) onto a a train track rail

            And a train ran over it?

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          You must have never dropped an iPhone 4/S from a foot up on something that isn't memory foam.

          Try leaving it on top of the car and then driving away -- hearing a clatter -- thinking 'um where's the phone?' and going back to find it -- fully functional, just some case scratches. Done it not, once, but twice.

          BTW, there's some great news on Alzheimers Research in a following news post. Hope they get this sorted before I really need it. Ok.. I have the phone, but where's the car?

          • by spauldo (118058)

            I did that once. I couldn't find it. I did find the rubber case cover though, and gave it to the clerk at Radio Shack (she had an iPhone) when I bought my Android. That rubber case cover was why the phone didn't fly off 'til I was going 75 down highway 412.

            I missed my contacts, but other than that I didn't miss the phone. My HTC has a plastic case cover, so maybe next time I leave my phone on the car it'll fall off before I'm out of the parking lot.

        • by flink (18449)

          I've dropped my iPhone 4 from 5' up and watched it bounce down half a flight of concrete steps to no ill effect. On the other hand, my girlfriend had hers fall 6" from her breast pocket while she was bending over to pick up her car keys and the screen complete shattered. They build these things out of some pretty amazing materials and they do their best to make them hardy, but when it comes down to it you are still rolling the dice when you drop one.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Your fingers are fleshy sausages. That is why it does not break.

        and no I have not worn gauntlets while using my iphone cince they went out of style in California. Nobody wears gauntlets after June, it's a fashion faux pas to do so.

        you are supposed wear fingerless gloves made of silk after june, thus the lack of breakage on glass phones.

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      I usually have to drop mine from 4 feet up onto tile to break them. I'm not sure what could be done to make them survive that reliably and still fit in my pocket.

    • by TWX (665546)

      I'm thinking that the tract-home builders will start using this new glass for the windows in the cheapass houses they build...

      • by tmosley (996283)
        Considering they are sandwiched in graphene, that might actually be better than modern windows. I don't think graphene transmits heat very well across the plain.
        • by TWX (665546)

          How about sound though? When we put in the new dual-pane windows at the previous house we had a marked drop in external sound inside the house.

          As close together as many modern tract homes are, I wouldn't want to hear my neighbor fart like I fear would be the case.

          • by sjames (1099)

            For some reason, you made me picture your house surrounded by your neighbor's very special stereo system preparing to annoy you greatly drawn in a sort of Dr. Seuss meets Mad Magazine style.

            Finally, a practical use for the sub-woofer.

          • by tmosley (996283)
            That sounds like a neat experiment. I have no idea how sound would propagate through graphene in any direction.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      That's why I want a Razr -- gorilla glass front and kevlar back. Too bad you have to get on T-Mobile to get one, though :(

  • "...an air leak caused the copper to react with the quartz, which is also made of silicon and oxygen,"

    "Also"?

    Copper is not made of silicon and oxygen. Graphite is not made of silicon and oxygen. What do you mean by "also"?

    • Re:Also? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Aladrin (926209) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:28AM (#38914395)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartz [wikipedia.org] "It is made up of a continuous framework of SiO4 silicon–oxygen tetrahedra, with each oxygen being shared between two tetrahedra, giving an overall formula SiO2."

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silicon_dioxide [wikipedia.org] "Silica is used primarily in the production of glass for windows, drinking glasses, beverage bottles, and many other uses."

      Glass and quartz.

      • Glass and quartz.

        Glass that consists of nothing other than silicon and oxygen-- chemically known as "silica"-- is referred to as "quartz".

        When they say they grew the material in "quartz" tubes, they mean: tubes made of silica glass. (Mineralogists reserve the word for only crystalline silica, but when they say a quartz tube, it's quartz glass, i.e. silica, not the mineral.) When they say that the substrate was "copper-covered quartz" they mean: "copper-covered silica glass". When they say they made glass consisting of tw

        • Quartz has a regular crystal structure, glass doesn't.
          • "Quartz has a regular crystal structure, glass doesn't."

            If you're a mineralogist. Try looking up "quartz glass" or "fused quartz" in google.

            • Ok, so there are several "isomers" of silica? Don't they all have different properties? What's the problem with distinguishing between them? I don't see how making this distinction is very different than making the distinction between diamond and graphene.
  • it can also create very thin glass! Go graphene!
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      it can also create very thin glass! Go graphene!

      Computer! I bring up the molecular structure for Transparent Grapheneium!

      We miss you, Mr. Scott

  • by Shoten (260439) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:26AM (#38914363)

    ...but I think an old landlord of mine managed to do this, many years ago.

  • How long before they broke it?
  • Serendipity (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Serendipity showing its hand in science once again.

  • Now I'll have to keep kids from breathing on my windows, much less throwing a baseball through them!
  • by nairnr (314138) on Friday February 03, 2012 @10:32AM (#38914449)
    Those people in atomic glass houses really shouldn't throw anything!
  • While it might sound all cool and stuff to make glass that thin, is there any practical applications for it? Or is this just one of those weird inventions that serves no real purpose but to satisfy intellectual or scientific curiosity?
    • While you post comments, do you read the summary at all? Or do you just read the first few letters and decide to post your thoughts?

      "Such ultra-thin glass could be used in semiconductor or graphene transistors."

      • by treeves (963993)

        I'm thinking that the leakage through such a thin layer of oxide would make it useless as an insulator in transistors.

        • by Sulphur (1548251)

          I'm thinking that the leakage through such a thin layer of oxide would make it useless as an insulator in transistors.

          Maybe one could do a tunneling junction.

    • by daktari (1983452)
      I'm sure we'll invent something for this invention.
    • I'm thinking it could be used as an insulator sandwiched inside of something. Don't know of any actual uses like that, but I'm sure someone else can come up with one.
    • It is said the most amazing discoveries come from a scientist saying "gee that's funny..."

      By accidentally producing this very cool new material they have according to the abstract made the first electron microscopy of glass, allowed by this very thin layer being supported by but not bonded to the underlying graphite. And from the amazing picture they took, which amazingly resembles drawings made by a glass theorist 80 years ago, they were able to make calculations showing that the weak van der waals force is what's keeping this thing stable.

      It is a totally awesome thing they found and probably gives them whole new ideas about how to grow thin 2d structures. Just a week ago there was another bit of news about awesome 2d ice channels in graphite that open and close to keep helium from going through them. Sounds like there are tons of totally awesome things that are possible in these crenulated 2d realms and graphite is helping us discover them.

      Perhaps someone else here can theorize about what it all means.

    • by PPH (736903)

      Screens for the next generation of iPads?

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Practical applications for new materials and other discoveries are seldom apparent at first. Even new inventions. Fifteen years ago everyone was asking me "why on earth do you have a computer?" When Edison invented voice recording, there were no practical applications for that, either, until Bell turned the wax cylinder into a shellack disk and people started listening to records.

      And what's wrong for discovery for the sake of discovery? I'll bet you think astronomy is a wasted science and never should be fu

  • Might this be a good for improving MOS transistors (gate/channel insulator)?

  • Sounds like the glass is half full to me.

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