Glass GenomeDecoding the glass “genome” could lead to faster development of new materials.Photo Courtesy of: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Thinkstock From protecting our most valuable works of art to enabling smartphone displays, glass has become one of our most important materials. Making it even more versatile is the next challenge. Developing new glass compositions is largely a time-consuming, trial-and-error exercise. But now scientists have developed a way to decode the glass “genome” and design different compositions of the material without making and melting every possibility. Their report appears in ACS’ journal Chemistry of Materials.

Despite the fact that humans have been making glass since antiquity, the material is still unpredictable. Scientists don’t yet fully understand how the structure of glass affects its properties such as density, crack resistance and melting temperatures. This knowledge gap hinders progress in developing new products, such as lighter windows for more fuel-efficient cars. A major complicating factor is that just about any element can be incorporated into glass, which means a near-endless list of possible compositions, each with a different set of properties. Glass types have been made by trial-and-error, but this process takes a lot of time. Morten M. Smedskjaer of Aalborg University and colleagues at Corning Incorporated wanted to come up with a faster way to develop new glass compositions for large-scale use.

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The researchers combined a range of computer models, from the empirical to those grounded in physics, to explore what they call the glass genome—the possible combinations of materials and their resulting properties. Using these models, glass makers will be able to predict how various glass compositions will behave in the real world, and optimize them for industrial production much faster than before.