VIDEO: Self-assembling metamaterials on the International Space Station

11/27/2013 - 00:00

If you have a smartphone, take it out and run your fingers along the glass surface.  It's cool to the touch, incredibly thin and strong, and almost impervious to scratching.  You're now in contact with a "smart material."

Smart materials don't occur naturally.  Instead, they are designed by human engineers working at the molecular level to produce substances made-to-order for futuristic applications. The Corning Gorilla Glass that overlays the displays of many smartphones is a great example. It gets it toughness, in part, from "fat" potassium ions stuffed into the empty spaces between old-fashioned glass molecules. When the molten glass cools during manufacturing, dense-packed molecules solidify into a transparent armor that gives Gorilla Glass its extraordinary properties.