Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory were able to manufacture a glass microalloy made of palladium which is is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803. Of the platinum group elements which include palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, iridium and osmium, palladium is the least dense and has the lowest melting point. THis factor allows this new glass product to be able to withstand impact since it bends without shattering. By adding palladium to the glass, the scientists were able to significantly increase the toughness of the material.
In the materials manufacturing industry toughness and strength are the two most important factors that determine the durability of the material. Keep in mind that the intention of this new glass material was to be used in the manufacturing of airplanes, bridges and spacecrafts, which must have both of the properties – strength and toughness.
Difference between Toughness and Strength
To understand the difference of strength and toughness we must define each. Strength is defined as the quantity of force a specific material can withstand before it damages, while toughness is the energy that is necessary to break or fracture a material. For example ceramic has a high strength factor but a low toughness since it will shatter when you drop it. While rubber has a very high toughness factor since it can withstand force and absorb it.
According to a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist Robert O. Ritchie: “It has probably the best combination of strength and toughness that has ever been achieved. It’s not the strongest material ever made, but it’s certainly one of the best with a combination of strength and toughness.”
Currently steel has one of the highest strength and toughness factors today, but this new glass has a far greater toughness and strength ration than any steel.
Many researchers including researchers at the California Institute of Technology, led by Marios D. Demetriou, have been investing time and lots of money in order to invent a material that will not break and will be bendable upon impact.
This type of material has promising uses in the construction of bridges as well as airplane and military vehicle windshields and rocket windshields as well as satelites which must be able to absorb comets and space derby without shattering.
Real World Applications
These new materials are very difficult to make and expensive. Therefore, we will not be seeing any of them used on cell phones, like Gorilla Glass for example, but perhaps in the future once scientists have mastered the production of this highly tough material, our cellphones and computers will be indestructible!