Through the looking glass: physicists solve age-old problem

A problem plaguing physicists across the globe for centuries has finally made a leap towards resolution. The nature of glass has stumped scientists for years but now a researcher from Queen Mary, University of London has a novel theory to re-ignite the glass debate.

Glass has historically sat in an unknown classification territory, somewhere between being a liquid and a solid. Its molecules are jumbled randomly, similarly to a liquid but moving a lot slower, to the point where they almost aren’t moving at all, in a similar state to a solid. Many theorists have argued that glass must enter a phase transition at some point like water does in changing its state from liquid water into solid crystalline ice.

Dr Kostya Trachenko from Queen Mary’s School of Physics, together with his collaborator Professor Vadim Brazhkin from the Russian Academy of Science, took a fresh look at the physics debate and argued that glass is a liquid with no phase transition at all.

“It is difficult to think of glass as a liquid when it displays all the qualities of a solid – it is hard and it shatters when it breaks,” Dr Trachenko said. “However, contrary to what has been previously thought, we propose that glass is not different from a liquid from a physical perspective, in that the differences between the glass and the liquid are only quantitative but not qualitative. When matter, being it gas, liquid or solid, changes between its different phases, its properties change profoundly. A similar important change, the jump of heat capacity, also happens during liquid-glass transition, which is why physicists thought there is some sort of a phase transition, between the liquid phase and the glass phase. However, there has been no evidence to support the existence of a distinct glass phase: we know that the glass and the liquid are nearly identical in terms of structure. It was this simple yet persisting controversy that was at the heart of the problem of glass transition.”

Edited from Through the looking glass: physicists solve age-old problem.

This entry was posted in Physics. Bookmark the permalink.