Researchers have identified and demonstrated a new method to measure local order in glass – a challenging class of material.
The finding, published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) has major implications for the engineering and design of glass and other materials.
“Glasses have a very disordered structure and it is an ongoing ‘grand scientific challenge’ to measure the small signatures of local order that exist above a large background level of randomness,” said lead author Dr Amelia Liu, from the Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy, and the School of Physics and Astronomy.
“Conventional techniques that work for crystals don’t work for glasses, but as with all materials, understanding their structure is the first step towards engineering structures that have more desirable properties.”
This research can be applied to metallic glasses, transparent molecular glasses and soft matter to develop better properties for a range of uses, for example architectural, optical, polymers, gels, foams, colloids and liquid crystals.
Researchers scanned a micro- x-ray beam across glass specimens and developed new ways to analyse the scattered x-ray patterns.
The success of the work hinged on a close collaboration between the Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy, the School of Physics and Astronomy, the School of Chemistry, and the Australian Synchrotron to bring together the elements of diffraction physics, colloid chemistry and exacting experimental conditions.
“Conventional crystallography has been extremely successful in a wide range of fields (materials, biology) in solving structures and bringing new understanding,” said Dr Liu.
“But this new method suggests that similar advances are possible for disordered materials.”
In the case of glass, researchers hope to identify the structures that make a material a good glass-former.
“We can then engineer glass that form more easily, and have less catastrophic mechanical failure,” Dr Liu said.