Fabricated: The World’s First Two-Dimensional Glass

Researchers from the Cornell University and the University of Ulm have created the world’s thinnest pane of glass – and all this due to a failed attempt at making graphene. The glass is a mere 3 atoms thick! It’s the world’s first pseudo two-dimensional glass sheet.

The image as seen by the electron microscope. Inset: What the theorist had predicted about glass's structure in 1932

Making Graphene… err Glass

Graphene is a novel material, which is just one atom thick. It is basically one atomic layer of graphite, having honeycomb shaped lattices, with carbon atoms at each of the lattice points. The researchers were trying to synthesize graphene, using a technique called Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD). They were trying to make a graphene sheet on a copper-covered quartz layer, which is a standard technique. What they found instead was a glass layer that had formed alongwith the graphene layer.

The scientists believe that an air leak allowed the copper to react with the quartz in the presence of oxygen and under high temperature. This led to the creation of a very thin layer of glass just 3 atoms in thickness.

A pleasant surprise

The greater surprise – and a pleasant one – emerged from the fact the glass structure looks like what a theorist had actually envisioned way back in 1932. Look at the inset figure. It clearly shows a few honey-comb structures alongwith many irregular ones. While oxygen appears white, silicon is marked in black. The use of ultra-thin glass sheets is innumerable. It can be used as miniature dielectric layers. Furthermore, this ‘accident’ reveals how such thin glass sheets can be produced.

The scientists have published this finding in Nano Letters.

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Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.