Friday, October 30, 2015

New Glass Technology Creates Thinner, More Durable Screens

Millions of people in the United States and around the world own smartphones, devices that can cost as much as $800. A huge fear among such individuals is that they will drop or otherwise break their phone, especially its most fragile component: the screen. Dozens of iPhone and Android users break their screens every day, to the extent that there are stores that have been opened specifically to repair smartphone screens and make other repairs. According to Tracey Lien's article, in the L.A. Times, a company called Corning Inc. has a way to make broken screens a thing of the past.

Where windows, soda bottles, and automobile windshields are made of various types of thick glass such as the common soda lime, Corning Inc. has been working on thinner, more durable alternatives for the past several years. Two of Corning's current projects, Willow Glass and Gorilla Glass, are far less breakable than classical glass, and can be made as thin as 0.1 millimeter, In a demonstration, Waguih Ishak, one of Corning's Research Center Directors, showed how a piece of normal glass could be cracked pretty easily whereas even when he exerted his full force on a piece of Willow Glass, he couldn't even leave a scratch.

Glass is formed by the superheating of sand, found mainly on coastlines where it has been created by the erosion of ocean waves on rocks. Glass has been made for thousands of years, and some archeological evidence even shows that ancient Mesopotamian civilizations had found a way to make a form of glass. Corning Inc., however, has advanced so much further than the primitive and brittle glass made accidentally as a byproduct of metalworking. Their products are so thin and flexible that they are able to be rolled up for shipping. Razor-thin willow glass can be shipped in rolls around the world for use in smartphones, televisions, and, one day, maybe even space shuttles.

As Ishak states, while plastic can become yellow and deteriorate, glass won't deteriorate. Furthermore, plastic is far more permeable than glass, meaning that a water can pass through a plastic screen on an electronic device in mere hours where it would take billions of years to pass through glass. So, it seems that Corning's creations really are breakthroughs in the field. A substance that is impermeable to water, can bend without breaking, doesn't deteriorate with age, and is crack and scratch-resistant seems almost too good to be true.

Lien's interview with Ishak provides us with a lot of information on their process while still keeping Corning's trade secrets. For the past few decades, the process involved superheating sand and other materials, then letting it slide down the side of a trough, allowing gravity to form the fused liquid into solid sheets of Willow Glass. Once the sheets are formed, a secret blend of chemicals are used to protect the glass against cracks and scratches. Recently, Corning came up with a method that involves using a roller to make the glass sheet even thinner than what gravity can do, enabling the glass to reach a minimum 0.05-millimeter thickness.

According to Ishak, however, 0.05 millimeter is by no means the thinnest they could make with future advancements in technology. The thinner they can make the glass, the more room there is for a bigger battery, which will extend usage time. Ishak dreams of the day in the not-so-distant future when the the technology inside the device catches up with the glass and allows designers to make smartphones that can fold or tablets that can be rolled up like a piece of paper. Ishak admits that this technology is not around yet, but is certain that when the electronics are ready, Corning Inc. will be on the team, bringing the world the newest technologies of the future. Even so, more durable and longer-lasting electronics are nothing to scoff at, and Corning certainly seems on its way to great things.

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