Researchers at McGill University have found a way to make glass stronger and less brittle, so it will not break or shatter when you drop it.
While the outer layer of mollusk shells are composed of 95 percent chalk, which is brittle, they are coated with an extremely strong and tough layer of nacre, or mother-of-pearl, on the inside.
“But nacre, or mother-of-pearl, which coats the inner shells, is made up of microscopic tablets that are a bit like miniature Lego building blocks, is known to be extremely strong and tough, which is why people have been studying its structure for the past twenty years,” said Professor François Barthelat from McGill’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Barthelat and his team studied the weak internal boundaries of nacre and recreated it on glass slides using a laser to engrave networks of 3D micro-cracks. These glass slides, the kind used with microscopes, were 200 times stronger than non-engraved slides.
By creating this pattern of micro-cracks, much like a jigsaw puzzle, they were able to stop the cracks from propagating and becoming larger under stress. They also filled these cracks with polyurethane, though according to Barthelat, this step is not essential as the micro-cracks are enough to provide the flexibility needed.
“We chose to work with glass because we wanted to work with the archetypal brittle material. But we plan to go on to work with ceramics and polymers in future. Observing the natural world can clearly lead to improved man-made designs,” said Barthelat.
The findings of the study have been published in the journal Nature.