19 September 2013

Scientists Accidentally Discover World’s Thinnest Glass

Image Caption: A microscopic photo of a sheet of glass only two atoms thick blends with an artist's conception to show the structural rendering. Credit: Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science. 

Scientists from Cornell University and the University of Ulm in Germany happened upon a world record-setting discovery.

A stroke of good luck led scientists to find the world’s thinnest piece of glass, measuring only two atoms thick. The glass was understandably easy to miss and was only seen when viewed through an electron microscope.

The scientists called the team from Guinness World Records, which titled their discovery ‘World’s Thinnest Glass.’ The scientists had actually been working to create a pure form of graphene, but one thing led to another and they found they had, instead, created an extremely thin film of glass.

More than a happy accident, the team can now examine this film of glass to better understand two-dimensional crystals in glass, something which has rarely been studied.

The glass was first discovered when they noticed a layer of what they call “muck” where they had been producing graphene. Putting the layer under an electron microscope, the scientists noticed the two-dimensional crystals resembled glass made of silicon and oxygen.

“In stark contrast with two-dimensional crystals such as graphene and monolayer hexagonal boron nitride, 2D glasses remain almost completely unexplored,” reads the corresponding paper for Cornell. “These materials, particularly if they cane [sic] isolated from substrates and free manipulated, may have enormous applicability.”

The American and German scientists scored another first as well; the images they took to record the moment are the first ever to show this arrangement of atoms that make up the glass. They believe the accident occurred when air reacted with some copper foils used in the graphene process and a quartz furnace.

As it turns out, one other man nearly discovered this two-dimensional and incredibly thin glass in 1932. According to the researchers, physicist William Houlder Zachariassen nearly categorized this arrangement of atoms in his research. The team says their images of the two-atom-thin glass closely resemble Zachariassen’s cartoon models of 2D continuous network glasses.

The team will now begin researching how these thin layers of glass are mapped out, why they exist, and how they can be used in future applications. So far they suggest this two-dimensional glass and others like it could be used in devices that use layers of graphene.

“Because the silica glass can be easily removed from the copper substrate and contains no dangling bonds, it may also find application in semiconductor or layered graphene electronics as a passivated starting layer for gate insulators,” write the scientists.

Read more:  Carbyne: A new form of carbon that’s stronger than graphene


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