Materials scientists work every day to expand our understanding of what glass can do
Being a materials scientist is all about knowing how to make the right selection. Think of materials as tools on a toolbelt. You don’t need every tool to finish every job. You can also use the wrong tool to get the job done. A wrench can help you push in a nail, but that’s not what it was designed to do. To do the job as well as possible, you’ll need a hammer. The decision process for materials scientists is often strikingly similar. They know the materials, or tools, and their job is to identify which material will work best for each application.
An enormous part of studying any material is determining what it can be used for. At Corning, our materials scientists work with glass to discover not just what glass can do, but where it can go. That research has led Corning to develop glass products that meet a wide variety of needs in everything from smartphones and TV displays to the optical fiber that connects us to the world.
That process begins with exploratory research, as glass scientists work with the material to determine all the ways it can be changed or manipulated. They strengthen it, bend it, test its optical properties and do a variety of other experiments to determine exactly what it’s capable of.
Research like that doesn’t always begin with a goal in mind. Instead, scientists at Corning look at the market, and at the latest possible applications in the world around them. From there, glass scientists determine what potential applications glass is best suited for. Depending on the application, Corning’s scientists then work with glass to emphasize the qualities needed for the application.
Glass’s applications are incredibly diverse, and that’s in part because it’s such a complex material. Researchers continue to discover new ways that it can be manipulated, which only means it can be the solution to an ever-expanding set of problems. Depending on what the application is, a glass scientist can emphasize glass’s strength, its clarity, its thermal stability, or any number of other characteristics. Take optical fiber as an example. In fiber, flexibility and clarity are key. They’re the qualities of the glass that allow it to transmit light over long distances without corrupting its quality, and are therefore the ones scientists focus on for this application.
In determining whether glass is the right solution to any given problem, materials scientists work to broaden the idea of what’s possible with glass. In mobile phones, the assumption for years was that plastic was the solution – it’s a transparent material that many initially saw as more durable than glass. Eventually, though, the optical clarity of glass, and the fact that it’s more scratch-resistant than plastic, allowed it to emerge as a viable alternative to plastic, and eventually gave it the chance to dominate the market.
At Corning, glass researchers know that glass as a material offers almost limitless possibilities. Often, the challenge is convincing the world to consider all the ways glass can be used. When a new application arises, and a material is needed, glass may offer a solution more often than many think.