Technology 3 min read

Researchers Toughen Glass Using Silicon Carbide Nanoparticles

Using silicon carbide nanoparticles, scientists from UCLA reinforced the atomic structure of glass to toughen it against impacts.

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have developed a new way of making glass five times tougher than any we’ve ever seen. It involves strengthening the atomic structure using silicon carbide nanoparticles.

The word “toughness” in material science refers to how much energy a material can absorb and deform without fracturing.

The ceramics and glass that we have right now are often reinforced using surface treatments such as chemical coatings. While this method could prevent the material from easily breaking, it still doesn’t change the fact that they are brittle.

So, the mechanical engineers and materials scientists at UCLA decided to address this issue. Taking a cue from the atomic structure of metals, the researchers decided to create a tougher glass.

The study’s principal investigator and Raytheon Professor of Manufacturing at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering, Xiaochun Li said:

“The chemical bonds that hold glass and ceramics together are pretty rigid, while the bonds in metals allow some flexibility.”

According to the researcher, when the impact on glass and ceramics is strong enough, a substantially vertical fracture will move through the material. Metal, on the other hand, can withstand more impact.

That’s because the chemical bonds in metals can serve as a shock absorber. When something impacts it, the atoms can move around while still maintaining the structure.

This led to an interesting hypothesis.

How to Make Glass Tougher Using Silicon Carbide

An electron microscope image of a new, tougher glass developed at UCLA, showing how nanoparticles (rounded, irregular shapes) deflect a crack and force it to branch out. | Image Credit: SciFacturing Lab/UCLA

The researchers hypothesized that infusing glass with nanoparticles of silicon carbide – a metal-like ceramic – could make it tougher. Hence, it could absorb more energy before failing.

To confirm their suspicion, the team added the nanoparticles into a molten glass at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This ensures that the silicon carbide disperses evenly.

After the material solidified, the embedded nanoparticle served as a form of roadblocks to potential fracture. Rather than a straight line on impact, the silicon carbide forced the breach to disperse into tiny networks.

That way, the glass could absorb significantly more energy before any damage would occur.

Past attempts at using nanoparticles to toughen glass had been mostly unsuccessful. The researchers could not spread the nanoparticles evenly, and the resulting material had uneven toughness.

Although the UCLA team’s newly developed glass block is somewhat milky, Li believes they could adapt the process to make more transparent glass. By then, it should be ready for industrial and architectural use.

We could get sturdier glass tables, doors, and even engine components.

Read More: New Space-Proof Materials use old Ceramics Tech for Next-gen Propulsion

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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