It’s late Saturday evening. I had just come home from the opening day of WITS15 – Women in Travel Summit, and my son and I are looking through the SWAG – the free items we received from the conference sponsors.
One of the items is a charger from Corning Incorporated, maker of Corning® Gorilla® Glass 4.
“You had CORNING there?” my son exclaims with more enthusiasm than I would have expected from a “cool” (thir)teen.
“Yeah,” I reply, surprised. “They made a presentation about their glass during our lunch break. Why? What’s so exciting about Corning?”
He looks at me with disbelief, then pulls open his laptop, opens YouTube, and in a few seconds finds what he was looking for.
“Watch this,” he practically orders.
The guys on the screen look familiar – it’s Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman and the clip is titled “The Glass Age, Part 1: Flexible, Bendable Glass.”
Adam asks “Can you imagine a world without glass?,” and after Jamie answers “No,” they go on explaining how important glass is to everyday life, and throw in a bit of history and science about your every-day, typical soda-lime glass.
About half-way through the nine-minute show, Jamie and Adam switch to talking about new kinds of glass – flexible optical fiber glass with low attenuation, and bendable Willow Glass, both developed by Corning.
“The Glass Age, Part 2: Strong, Durable Glass” moves on to Gorilla Glass, currently used on many, though not all, smartphones, tablets, and notebooks, because it dramatically improves the device screen’s durability, as spectacularly proven by Adam and Jamie.
Through the example of Prince Rupert drop, a drop of molten regular soda lime glass rapidly cooled in a tank of cold water, Jamie and Adam explain the concept of compressive strength. Corning Gorilla Glass 4, however, is not made by the rapid cooling method, but rather by ion exchange process, we learn from the video. (go to 5:18 to watch that part)
As Adam “simply” explains:
“The surface ion particles that naturally form during the manufacture, are replaced with larger ion particles. Once exchanged, the larger ion particles create the same sort of inward pressure that we see on the Prince Rupert drop. And with this method they [Corning] are able to control the resulting tension.”
Jamie chimes in:
“I think what you’re saying is [….] that they are able to tune strengthening glass by dialing the right balance between compression and tension.”
Next, the guys move to other “applications for this tough glass,” which, according to Jamie, “go well beyond the mobile devices” – namely, windshields. I gotta admit, the difference between damage done to a regular soda lime glass windshield and an experimental windshield with Gorilla Glass is impressive.
So now, after watching these two clips, I’m intrigued. We search for more information about Gorilla Glass.
From “The Fusion Process: At the Core of Corning’s Glass Innovations” video we learn about the fusion-draw process by which Gorilla Glass is made, and I wonder who and how came up with the idea of fusing two layers of glass, how exactly it strengthens the glass, and how Corning controls how thick the overflowing glass is (the information says that they can manufacture glass that’s microns thin!)
In addition to including a shot about fusion-draw process from the video above, the “Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3: Tougher Through Science” video also nicely illustrates “densification” – a process that permits absorption of external force into the glass, resulting in just a tiny divot. (at 0:59)
The “Tougher Through Science” video also has a neat animation about the ion exchange process, during which “large Potassium ions replace smaller Sodium ions, placing the surface under high compression making it more resistant to surface flaws” (at 0:42).
“What makes Corning® Gorilla® glass so tough?” explains the ion exchange process slightly differently:
“large ions are ‘stuffed’ into the glass surface, creating a state of compression. […] Smaller sodium ions leave the glass, and larger potassium ions from the [molten] salt bath replace them. These large ions take up more room and are pressed together when the glass cools, producing a layer of compressive stress on the surface of the glass.”
All right, so I get it. Gorilla Glass is tough. But so what? What else can it be used for in addition to smartphones?
Well, in our research about Gorilla Glass, we stumble next onto a futuristic-looking video “A Day Made of Glass Extended Montage.”
In this video we see mirrors in the bathroom displaying the homeowner’s schedule (0:20):
We see a teacher using a full-width and full-height glass wall to display and manipulate information, like you currently can do on a tablet (1:42):
And we watch a kid use a clear tablet to “see” a dinosaur in between the trees during a field trip (3:43):
All of it looks fabulous, but I wonder, as I watch, how much of it is possible in the near future, and how much is basically a science-fiction-like idea, that we are nowhere near achieving.
The next video we find, “A Day Made of Glass 2: Unpacked. The Story Behind Corning’s Vision” answers a few questions of what is possible now – large-scale, seamless-design, logic-enabled, durable, multi-touch glass on walls or table surfaces.
Low-cost, high-efficiency photovoltaic completely flat rooftops should, apparently, be available in a near future, while large scale see-through displays in National Parks are still a bit off into the future.
I’m a bit skeptical about the claim that current technology allows manufacture of large scale, multi-touch surfaces, but “Inspired by Glass: Realizing the Vision Symposium” proves me wrong.
One of the clips from the 2015 symposium shows self-tinting windows made by View Dynamic Glass, that can be clear or opaque, as necessary, but I am especially fascinated by displays made by MultiTaction that recognize someone’s ID card, show information available specifically to that person, and allow writing on the glass with a light pen. The glass displays have LCD behind it, but the glass transmits the light from the LCD and recognizes touch, allowing manipulating the information that’s displayed, including picture rotation and enlargement or shrinking.
I’m thinking that the professors and especially language instructors I work with, most of whom use audio-visual materials already, would absolutely love to have a classroom with intelligent, full-width displays like that, where they could play brief or long videos, tap into an online dictionary on the side, and write and erase terms and vocabulary as necessary.
Another video we find, “SnapCab Elevator Interior Systems now features Corning Gorilla Glass,” video may seem not quite as exciting in comparison, since it talks about interior systems in elevators and simple background glass walls in boardrooms, but if you think about it, it also opens a world of possibilities.
If you can do a “wood paneling” glass in a board room – fill a room with glass panels that look like wood, maybe soon in the future it will also be possible to have a glass wall in your own house, and have a “wallpaper” of sorts where you can rotate your favorite landscapes, depending on your mood. (I’d probably have a sunny beach displaying on my living-room wall during the cold New England winters.)
My son and I had quite a discussion about all these Corning movies that evening, commenting, as we watched, on what would be cool to have, or how long it would take to develop certain technologies.
Some parents bond with the kids while playing ball. I bond with my son watching nerdy videos about science. (It wasn’t the first time he made me watch science videos on YouTube.) Without him, I would never have known that Corning’s Gorilla Glass is not used just on smartphones, but has or will have a multitude of other uses as well.
Now we just have to figure out how soon we could put aside some time for a family trip to Corning, NY. We won’t get to see the manufacturing process first-hand, or even get a trip around the company headquarters, but at least we could see the Corning Museum of Glass, which was redesigned and opened a new wing in March 2015. That still would be worth a trip.
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Corning Gorilla Glass, and I received compensation for writing it, but if you watch the videos, I believe you will be just as amazed as I am at the possibilities this product offers. I would not have agreed to write a promotional post about a product I don’t find interesting.