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Metallic Glass Stronger Than Steel

Researchers have created a new kind of damage-tolerant metallic glass that may be tougher than any other known material. The new metallic glass is a microalloy featuring palladium, a metal with a high "bulk-to-shear" stiffness ratio that counteracts the intrinsic brittleness of glassy materials.

"Because of the high bulk-to-shear modulus ratio of palladium-containing material, the energy needed to form shear bands is much lower than the energy required to turn these shear bands into cracks," Ritchie says. "The result is that glass undergoes extensive plasticity in response to stress, allowing it to bend rather than crack."


(Damage-tolerant metallic glass)
This micrograph of a deformed notch in palladium-based metallic glass shows extensive plastic shielding of an initially sharp crack. The inset is a magnified view of a shear offset (arrow) developed during plastic sliding before the crack opened.

"These results mark the first use of a new strategy for metallic glass fabrication and we believe we can use it to make glass that will be even stronger and more tough," says Robert Ritchie, a materials scientist who led the Berkeley contribution to the research.

"Our game now is to try and extend this approach of inducing extensive plasticity prior to fracture to other metallic glasses through changes in composition," Ritchie says. "The addition of the palladium provides our amorphous material with an unusual capacity for extensive plastic shielding ahead of an opening crack. This promotes a fracture toughness comparable to those of the toughest materials known. The rare combination of toughness and strength, or damage tolerance, extends beyond the benchmark ranges established by the toughest and strongest materials known."

Science fiction fans recall the metalloglass buildings in the comic strip version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. As far as I know, there is no reference to "metalloglass" in Philip Nowlan's 1928 novel Armageddon: 2419, which introduced Buck Rogers to the world.

Update 22-Apr-2020: Take a look at this original comic strip reference to metal as transparent as glass from 1929. End update.

I also thought of the tower of glass from Robert Silverberg's 1970 eponymous story.

Compare to the glassite seen in Edmond Hamilton (and probably other) stories; it is used as a material for transparent bubble-style helmets for space-suits, and as a building material:

The Terra Hotel stood in a garden at the edge of town, fronting the moonlit immensity of the desert. This glittering glass block, especially built to cater to the tourist trade from Earth, was Earth-conditioned inside...

The place had glassite walls and ceiling, and was designed to give an impression of the navigating bridge of a space-ship.
(From The World with a Thousand Moons by Edmond Hamilton [1941])

Via Lab Spaces; thanks to Winchell Chung for the tip and the reference for this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/12/2011)

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