New glass research is shattering a well-established mystery about the material and creating some exciting news about the states of matter.
[Image Source: Pixabay]
The mystery starts by understanding what happens when you zoom in on a crystal. Through the microscope, you’ll see an orderly arrangement of atoms. Even spaced and understandable. On the contrary, zoom in on a piece of glass and you’ll see something more chaotic. The image will look more like a pile of sand, un-ordered. This is where things get interesting.
The highly-ordered crystals make them easy to understand mathematically. Physicists all over the world have developed theories that help us to understand crystal properties and their value in engineering. Things like how they act under temperature change and other stresses.
But the messy glass is basically unexplainable. No approach can be agreed upon to explain its physical makeup and behavior. The material's disordered nature won’t allow it to be written into the rule book.
This problem has been irritating physicists for over 30 years. The debate had raged among the research community if a mysterious ‘transition phase’ that is present in theoretical models of other disorderly materials could be the answer to the glass mystery.
Hard work done by hand
Dozens of handwritten pages of algebraic calculations and with a little bit of help from the world of particle physics Duke University postdoctoral fellow Sho Yaida has solved the decade-old glass research mystery.
[Image Source: DukeToday]
Yaida’s research offers the possibility that glass might exist in a totally new state of matter at low temperatures. This influences how they respond to heat, sound, and stress, and under what conditions they break.
Yaida’s advisor and associate professor at Duke said that they didn’t want to reveal the research too early as parts of the scientific community were convinced the transition didn’t exist. “What Sho shows is that it can exist,” he states.
With obvious excitement and pride, Charbonneau was quoted as saying “Moments like these are the reason why I do science.”
Infinite thinking the key to new research
As unbelievable as it sounds Charbonneau explains the easiest way for the mathematics behind these materials to be explained is to assume that they exist in a hypothetical infinite-dimensional universe and then go from there. In these hypothetical environments, the materials properties can be calculated relatively easily. Much the same way ordered materials can be calculated in our three-dimensional universe. This method of infinite-dimensional universe research could unlock our understanding on a range of other ‘messy’ materials like plastic.
Whether Yaida’s glass research has any useful application in the real world is yet to be determined. But its value to physics is undeniable. One key to these infinite dimensional calculations is the existence of a phase transition—called the “Gardner transition” (named after groundbreaking physicist Elizabeth Gardner) which, if present in different types of glass, could radically change the material's properties at low temperatures.
The phase transition which was proven by the Duke researchers using the hypothetical infinite-dimensional universe was denied by physicists for three decades after studies done in the 1980's produced the calculations that it could not exist in our known three-dimensional conditions. The new research opens up exciting new doors into further understanding of the state of matter.