[Image above] Optical fiber bundle. Credit: Groman123; Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 CC via Flickr

By virtue of reading this, you benefit from glass technology. Optical fiber networks played a role in transmitting my Word document onto a website and bringing it to your laptop, tablet, or phone, all of which contain quite a lot of glass.

That’s just one example of an impact of glass on your day-to-day life. Many other objects we use daily are glass-based or trace their origins back to glass technology. For example, today’s polycarbonate eyeglasses trace their origins to glass-based spectacles invented by monks in the 13th century.

By the 14th century, craftsmen learned to make windows to let light in while keeping weather out. Today, we can look out beyond our street view to anyone’s street view, thanks to optical fiber networks, display devices, and their glasses.

Fast-forward a few centuries and the logic of the United Nations proclamation of 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies—many of which are glass-enabled—makes sense.

It hardly seems surprising, then, that the company most known for advanced glasses, Corning Incorporated, has boldly declared our times as the “Glass Age,” claiming glass is as transformative as stone, bronze, and iron were to the eras named for them.

Thus, it seems quite appropriate that the editors of the International Journal of Applied Glass Science would take a scholarly approach to test the premise, which they did in the issue published just last week.1227ctt-ijag-issue-4-cover-lores

Editor L. David Pye writes in his introduction to the issue, “Clearly glass has played a major role in advancing civilization and mankind throughout recorded history be it in the arts, architecture, transportation, medicine, communication, and especially important, other branches of science.”

The first article, “Welcome to the Glass Age,” builds on the idea. In it Corning’s chief technology officer, David Morse, and Jeffrey Evenson, chief strategy officer, recognize the past and present, but keep their focus fixed on the future. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to harness the unique capabilities of glass to solve some of our world’s most urgent challenges, such as more effective healthcare, cleaner energy and water, and more efficient communication.”

The other thirteen articles in the issue show us the transformative history of glass and also point to advances in glass properties and processing that will enable new transforming applications. Articles cover a very interesting history of optical fiber development, bioactive glass, chemical strengthening, modeling and simulation applied to processing and properties, and advances in understanding mechanical properties.

Now, it’s one thing for glass scientists to celebrate their material and its importance. But another test of the Glass Age premise is to look for evidence beyond the glass science community.

I didn’t have to look far.

The December issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society just happened to have two articles on glass for new, extreme applications that show that non-glass scientists are looking at glass for solutions to problems other materials cannot solve.

The first paper reports on glass dielectrics for extreme high-temperature environments and comes out of Michael Lanagan’s group at Pennsylvania State University. Engineering of wide bandgap SiC-based semiconductor devices is nearing its promise of delivering high-temperature electronics that can be used in the realm of 200–400˚C. The group looked at commercially available, rare-earth modified alumino-borosilicate glass and studied “high-field electrical properties at temperatures above 200 ˚C where ion transport becomes significant.” Besides offering superior dielectric properties at elevated temperature, glasses have the advantage of competing with polymer films in terms of thinness and bendability for roll-to-roll processing.

The second JACerS paper reported on superior ablation properties of glass coatings containing graphene nanoplatelets for thermal protection systems. Pilar Miranzo’s group at the Institute of Ceramics and Glass (Madrid, Spain) is hunting for a coating to protect critical regions of suborbital reentry vehicles from temperatures up to 1,350 ˚C and ablation from debris. Yttria-aluminosilicate glasses containing aligned graphene nanoplatelets were thermal sprayed onto SiC substrates and subject to thermal cycling and ablation tests. The glass composition was chosen because of its high melting temperature as well as its crystallization properties. The ability of the glass to crystallize into a glass-ceramic gives the coating a degree of self-healing.

Morse and Evenson in their IJAGS article must have had examples such as these in mind when they wrote, “The true excitement of the Glass Age derives from combining the rich palette of the Periodic Table with modern analytic and control technologies to unleash new capabilities for a broad range of industries.”

It would seem, then, that ample evidence backs Pye’s statement in the opening of his IJAGS editorial, “…we are at a special moment in time where the arrival of the Glass Age can be declared with certainty and pride by glass scientists, engineers, educators, artists, and glass manufacturers across the globe.”

Morse and Evenson echo Pye’s point with several calls to action, including, “We must build bridges in the global glass community and create strong collaborations between corporations, universities, and professional associations.”

Corning Incorporated provided financial sponsorship of the issue, in addition to supporting a large number of the authors who contributed articles.1227ctt-corning_ijags_ad_7-5x10-lores

One additional note—two articles in the issue are open access: “Welcome to the Glass Age” and “Glass: The Carrier of Light – A Brief History of Optical Fiber.”