liquid glass

Research groups of Professor Andreas Zumbusch and Professor Matthias Fuchs

  • The search for answers about solid glass has led scientists to make a new phase of matter.
  • Liquid glass is a slightly ordered middle area between a colloid and a solid.
  • The “transitional” state of liquid glass could help scientists understand disordered solid glass.

    In exciting new research, scientists have uncovered a new phase of matter: liquid glass.

    You love badass science experiments. So do we. Let’s nerd out together.

    Glass has special, wild properties that make it of ongoing interest to scientists as well as the general public, meaning research into glass behavior is still making pretty big strides forward. Liquid glass could help scientists better understand other pieces of the glass puzzle.

    Think about how ice freezes—not just in your freezer, but even in snowflake form or over puddles. You can see with the naked eye how orderly this process is, with crystals forming and extending toward the center of the pond, for example, or around the edge of the ice cube tray. This is how almost every liquid turns into almost every solid: by organizing and becoming crystalline first.

    But not glass. This mysterious liquid-to-solid transition is more like teenagers caught at a kegger: frozen exactly in place, with no order whatsoever.

    Glass doesn’t form crystals, and there’s no predictable structure in solid glass. If that sounds bizarre, now you understand why people flock to study the weirdness of glass.

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    In this case, researchers from the University of Konstanz in Germany used a comparable chemical mixture called a colloidal suspension to highlight and isolate liquid glass. They explained in a statement:

    “Using a model system involving suspensions of tailor-made ellipsoidal colloids, the researchers uncovered a new state of matter, liquid glass, where individual particles are able to move yet unable to rotate—complex behavior that has not previously been observed in bulk glasses.”

    Remember those old beaded car seat covers from when you were a kid? The beads are held in place in one direction by the webbing structure, but they’re free to spin freely on the other axis. This makes more sense to us as a way that matter might behave. Instead, liquid glass is like a spooky atomic gyroscope that always faces the same way no matter how you move it. It’s like a magnet is acting just out of frame.



    The scientists went to great lengths to set up this exact experiment, partly because their colloidal suspension is made of unusual shapes—which is likely why it worked. They took each individual particle in the suspension and stretched it into an oblong rather than spherical shape, which is more like most colloids found in nature. (Everyday household colloids include smoke, dust, marshmallows, shampoo, and pearls, plus many others.)

    In their experiments, the researchers found that something about their coalescing particles of plastic physically obstructed them from forming the “liquid crystal” that you would also expect glass to form. This suggests the physical shape of the particles could be playing a part in glass’s complex, unpredictable behavior.

    As with many kinds of science, learning about a new variable in play can only help you narrow down the problem. Liquid glass is just one step toward a smoother, glassier tomorrow.


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