Scientists Create World's Thinnest Glass—by Mistake

Find sheds light on its makeup, and qualifies for Guinness book

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 15, 2013 7:32 AM CDT

(Newser) – It's another one of those chance scientific breakthroughs: Scientists from Cornell and Germany have created the thinnest glass known to man entirely by accident, reports LiveScience. Just how thin? A hard-to-fathom 2 atoms thick, which means you'll need an electron microscope to check it out, notes RedOrbit. The discovery might not only shed important insights into the unusual liquid-vs-solid structure of glass, it earned the scientists some real-world bragging rights: Guinness World Records has included the discovery in its 2014 book.

So how did they create the glass? As the Cornell Chronicle explains, the scientists were making a different uber-thin material called graphine and noticed some "muck" on it. That muck turned out to be made of silicon and oxygen, the stuff of glass. Their best guess is that an air leak caused copper foils to react with a quartz furnace. By studying the happy accident, the researchers have for the first time revealed "the precise arrangement of atoms in glass," explains the Verge. Amazingly, it's nearly spot-on with a theoretical model drawn in 1932 by physicist WH Zachariasen. As for real-world applications, the 2D glass could someday be used in transistors and lead to faster processors for computers and smartphones. (Click to read about another accidental discovery, this one of the world's best water absorbers.)

  (Shutterstock)
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