Aluminate Glass: Did Scientists Create Transparent Aluminum?

Anatoly Rosenflanz and colleagues at 3M in Minnesota used a "flame spray" technique to alloy aluminum oxide with rare-earth metal oxides to create a strong glass with good optical qualities - transparent alumninum! Well, okay, it's really transparent alumina - but that's probably as close as you Trekkies are likely to get.

(From Bulk Rare-Earth Aluminate Glasses)

Ordinary glass is cooled quickly, so its atoms have no time to form an ordered lattice - a crystal. Silica is typically used in glass because it can be cooled quickly. Until now, alumina was seen as a highly desirable constituent for glass, because it would have superior mechanical properties. And how well did their process work?

"The 3M scientists characterised the glasses using optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction and thermal analysis, and tested the strength of the materials with hardness and fracture toughness tests. They found that their samples were much harder than conventional silica-based glasses and were almost as hard as pure polycrystalline alumina."
Read Glass Breakthrough at PhysicsWeb for the details.

SF fans of course remember transparent aluminum from Star Trek IV. The forumula for this extremely tough but clear substance is traded for Plexiglas to make the walls of a tank for a pair of humpback whales. Now I'm feeling bad about the snarky Tinfoil Hats Now Made With Transparent Aluminum April Fool's Day story I did earlier in the year...

Thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip story - and thanks for readers who wrote in with corrections.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/23/2004)

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