How Do You Make The Thinnest Pane Of Glass? By Accident!

On face value, it appears to be a scientist’s version of a ‘knock knock’ joke. In actual fact though, graduate student Pinshane Huang and Professor David Muller of Cornell and Germany’s University of Ulm were laughing all the way to the Guiness Book of world records with the thinnest pane of glass in the world.

A Happy Accident

The two scientists were originally trying to form graphene, which is a two dimensional form of carbon. While they were at work on the project, they discovered a mark of some kind on the graphene. As they examined the unwanted blemish on their desired graphene, the electron microscope picked up a silicon/oxygen composition which was the same as glass.

It’s believed that some kind of air leak was responsible for causing a reaction between the copper foils and the quartz furnace used to make the graphene. This reaction led to the production of the world record breaking glass.

A Proven Point

So how thin is the thinnest pane of glass in the world? Precisely one molecule thick (or thin). What was even more astonishing and rewarding for the scientists was the fact that using the powerful microscope, they were actually able to see something else.

Because the average pane of glass is millions of times thicker than Huang and Muller’s discovery, observing it through a microscope simply produces a tangled mess of atoms. The simple two atom thick glass gave Muller another ‘first’ in the history of science when he was able to see the exact structure of glass first hand.

As if the day wasn’t already full of discovery, the image taken by the electron microscope of the structure of the glass bore remarkable resemblance to a sketch that was drawn many years ago. Physicist W.H. Zachariasen had an idea of what the structure of glass would look like and in 1932 he put his money where his mouth was by way of a sketch. The accidental creation of the thinnest pane of glass in the world finally gave support to Zachariasen’s theory.

The Future

The ultra thin glass might have various practical uses including use for transistors in smartphones.