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Brief Published: 4 Apr 2014

Super-Strong Glass

Mollusc shell

Scientists at McGill University in Canada have discovered a way to make super-strong glass inspired by mollusc shells. Using a special engraving process, the researchers have been able to create glass that can deform by up to 5% before breaking; regular glass shatters at 0.1%.

The researchers examined the properties of mollusc shells, which, despite being mostly made of brittle chalk, are very strong. This is thanks to the thin inner coating of mother of pearl that creates a strong structure of interlocking blocks on the outer edge of the shell. The scientists recreated this structure by engraving 3D micro-cracks into the surface of the glass, rendering it up to 200 times stronger.

"What we know now is that we can toughen glass or other materials by using patterns of micro-cracks to guide larger cracks, and in the process absorb the energy from an impact," said François Barthelat, the lead professor on the study.

The super-strong glass could be used for windowpanes, spectacles and even smartphone screens. At the moment, the average mobile phone is used for less than two years before it is replaced, often because of a smashed screen.

Barthelat and his team now plan to extend the study to look at ceramics and polymers, paving the way for a host of new super-strong materials. For more bio-inspired breakthroughs in materials, robotics and packaging, take a look at Marine Materials.