ALTO, Calif. ó "We donít make that kind of
glass," said Waguih Ishak, director of Corning Inc.ís
West Coast Research Center, pointing to the windows
lining his office and, beyond that, to the windshields
of the cars parked outside.
is very thick glass, where impurities and small defects
donít really matter. At Corning, we make
knows that to the layman, this doesnít mean much.
is glass. You can see through it, it keeps things out,
and it breaks.
more could Corningís lab in Palo Alto do besides make
it a little thinner, a little smoother and a little
smiled. His face was friendly, but the knowing look in
his eyes was clear: You have no idea.
played with a plastic-like sheet between his hands,
bending it back and forth.
is Willow Glass," he said, forming a bell curve
with the sheet. "Itís 0.1-millimeter-thin
can now mass-produce Willow Glass and ship it around the
world in large rolls.
this," he said, tapping on some smaller pieces of
glass on the table, "is Gorilla Glass."
Glass is the glass in iPhones. Thanks to Corningís
chemical formulas, itís the reason phones are now more
scratch- and shock-resistant than earlier models.
picture this, Ishak said: razor-thin glass with the
flexibility of plastic and the durability of steel.
what it would mean for mobile devices.
think what it could mean for any electronic device with
isnít a pipe dream, he said. Scientists at Corning ó
a company that creates the recipes and processes to
manufacture glass used in smartphones, televisions and
even space shuttles ó are finally having technological
breakthroughs that could make glass, an often overlooked
component of electronic devices, sexy.
in Ishakís eyes, sexier than it already is.
ages," he said. "After a few years it becomes
yellow and deteriorates. Glass doesnít."
continued: "If you have a 1-millimeter sheet of
plastic, it will take an oxygen ion (that is, moisture)
a few hours to get through it. Moisture is terrible for
electronics. If you have a 1-millimeter piece of glass,
it will take 30 billion years."
Ishak said, raising both eyebrows, satisfied heíd made
his point. "Hmm!"
the inherent properties of glass, though, Ishak has
reason to believe in the material. Willow and Gorilla
Glass aside, heís leading a team of scientists and
engineers at Corning to make glass do things most people
thought were impossible. Thinner, stronger, flexible,
anti-glare, anti-bacterial ó and thatís just the
start of it.
Corningís factories, high-quality raw material
comprising sand and other material is melted and poured
down the exterior of a structure that resembles a
trough. The molten glass flows down each side of the
trough, meeting at a point at the bottom. Here, the
substance fuses together (thus the name fusion glass
manufacturing) and gravity continues to pull it down. As
gravity pulls it, the substance begins to cool into
sheets of glass.
is a process that Corning has used for the last few
decades to make glass.
recently, though, Corning has added a step to the
process. As the substance cools, Corning attaches it to
a roll, which pulls the sheet even further, making it
thinner. The result? Glass that gets as thin as 0.05
not as simple as stretching the glass out like pizza
dough, though. Corning scientists have spent years
tweaking the chemical composition, time, pressure and
temperature to make it work. Willow Glass was made
possible only a year or so ago.
glass can obviously mean thinner devices, but these new
processes are producing glass so pristine that Ishak
predicts theyíll soon be able to support 4K or higher
resolution video on mobile phones.
thing: "Every time I shave 0.1 millimeter, it
allows for a bigger battery," Ishak said.
"Bigger battery means more time between
company is also making strides with stronger, steel-like
Ishakís table, where small squares of Gorilla Glass
sat, he tapped on a square of non-Gorilla Glass.
one is ordinary soda lime," Ishak said.
lime is the kind of glass used for drink bottles and
a tool that resembled a metal crochet needle, he pressed
one end against the glass. With little effort, it
one is soda lime that weíve treated with some
chemicals," he said, tapping at the next piece of
time, Ishak had to apply a bit more pressure, but again,
the glass cracked.
this third one is Gorilla Glass, which we made, and
plunged in a special chemical bath. The recipe is our
threw his weight behind the metal needle, pushing it
into the third piece of glass. It stayed put.
this last one is the next iteration of that."
time using both hands, he pushed the needle into the
millimeter-thin square. The glass didnít budge. It
didnít even scratch.
developments are a big deal, according to industry
experts who believe advancements in glass alone could
change the way we make and use mobile devices.
see the immediate use of this ultra-thin glass will be
improving the durability of phones," said Andrew
Hsu, head of the concept prototyping team at Synaptics,
a firm that develops touch screens and displays.
"Itís amazing to think everyone has a
$600-to-$800 device thatís incredibly complicated, and
people use and abuse them and throw them around."
durable phones could also mean the end of phone cases,
which, according to Daniel Hays, a principal partner at
PwC, could "improve the viability of having
dual-screen phones where the back of the phone serves a
different purpose," he said. A second screen,
perhaps? Maybe a touchpad?
according to Hsu, if glass can get so thin that itís
bendable while retaining its strength, think of the
different forms devices could take.
the early days of phones, there was a diverse ecosystem
of handsets that took many different forms and
shapes," he said. "Then, after 2009, every one
had a rectangular slab."
devices, more powerful and longer-lasting devices, and
more diverse devices are all inching closer to reality
all thanks to, yes, glass.
with glass becoming so thin and flexible, researchers
around the world are even exploring flexible
electronics: phones that can be folded in half, tablets
that can be rolled up like a fruit roll.
to Ishak, glass is ready for fruit roll technology.
Willow Glass already comes on a roll. The rest of the
electronics industry just isnít quite ready to get
when it is, Ishak said, Corning will be ready.
when the roll-up phones are finally made?
be the first to buy it!"