A team of scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California , recently revealed that they have developed a metallic glass that is harder and tougher than stainless steel, but weighs much less.
While traditional glass is made from transparent silicon, this one is an alloy of opaque titanium and zirconium (both metals). Besides using a different material to create the new glass, the scientists' also changed the underlying structure of the traditional glass, which is what makes it so prone to cracking.
Currently, all glass, whether window or opaque metallic, comprises of randomly grouped atoms - meaning, that there are lots of atoms in some areas and very few in others (see pic). While the groups of atoms create a strong external surface, it is very vulnerable to even the tiniest of cracks, making glass fragile.
To come up with the new glass, scientists first researched materials with which they could create a crystalline structure - one where the underlying atoms are uniformly distributed, leaving no vulnerable areas.
After several years of experimenting, they have come up with the right formula. They begin by heating an alloy of half titanium and half zirconium to 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 degrees Fahrenheit), until it melts. The resulting liquid is allowed to cool very slowly for a couple of minutes and then cooled very rapidly after that.
This technique allows to create a glass that has crystalline structures (see pic) distributed evenly, which help prevent any cracks from extending beyond a few microns, making the end product tougher than anything currently available.
Meanwhile, the rapid cooling technique gives the resulting product, a glassy finish, which gives it additional strength.
Besides being lighter and tougher, the new material is also easier to mold in shape - all that has to be done, is to put the melted liquid into the mold and freeze it. The scientists are hoping that this new glass will provide a viable alternative to stainless steel and be used to manufacture all kinds of products, maybe even airplanes.