Glass is everywhere around us in modern times. We use it in our homes, and it has become increasingly popular to see enormous skyscrapers entirely made of huge pieces of glass. But how exactly are all of these different types of glass made, and how do they not break?
While we generally think of glass as a fragile material, technology has allowed us to evolve the science behind how glass is made to create stronger, more durable glass. Keep reading to learn the basic science behind how glass is made and how the glass industry can produce such large and, yet durable, pieces of glass.
How is Glass Made?
Glass is an interesting material due to its chemical and physical properties. It is unique, and it is hard to think of another material with similar features. It is strong enough to construct buildings out of, but it can also shatter easily. It is completely transparent while being made from an opaque material. It behaves like a solid when it is actually a liquid, specifically liquid sand.
That all may sound hard to believe, but glass is made by melting sand (composed primarily of silicon dioxide) into a liquid at around 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. When the sand cools back down, it never returns to the original solid-state it started as. Instead, the heat causes a chemical reaction that creates a new inner structure for the molecules. This structure looks like a solid but never quite forms and is referred to as a frozen liquid or an amorphous solid. The result is a material somewhere between a solid and a liquid, with crystalline structures and molecular instability.
When Was Glass First Made?
Glass has been around for quite a while, so it is unknown when it was first created by humans. The oldest known occurrences of glass date back to 2500 BC, from which glass beads were recently discovered in Egypt, and a glass rod from 2600 BC, which was found in Babylonia.
How Is Glass Manufactured?
On an industrial scale, manufacturers use the same basic process described above to make commercial glass. Glass manufacturing plants use a mix of sand, recycled glass pieces, limestone, and soda ash to heat, pour, and then cool down into custom glass pieces. The soda ash acts to reduce the sand’s melting point to save energy, while the limestone counteracts the soda ash’s drawback of making the glass dissolve in water.
Tempered glass is a special kind of glass that is used when the glass needs to be extra strong and difficult to break. It is manufactured by quickly reducing the molten glass’s temperature, which creates additional tension within the inner structure. Tempered glass is often used in buildings, car windshields, and other uses where strong and safe glass is essential.
An even stronger option is bulletproof glass. While rare and primarily used in situations where a high level of security is required, bulletproof glass is created by sandwiching layers of glass and plastic together until it is strong enough to stop a bullet.
Tinted glass is created by adding different chemicals to the glass-making process to affect the glass’s end appearance. Tinted glass may be used for various aesthetic purposes, such as stained-glass windows or colored vases, or functional purposes, such as amber bottles for liquids that are reactive to light.
Glass manufacturers can add a wide variety of chemicals to their process to impact the resulting glass. Chromium or iron can be added to create green glass, while cobalt can make blue glass. For practical uses, boron oxide can be added to create oven-proof glass, while it is common to add lead oxide to glass that will be used for fine crystal to make it easier to cut.
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