The Science of Glass

28 May, 2015 620 Engineering

While glass items have been made for at least 5,000 years, scientists are yet to explain, conclusively, what happens when the substance it’s made from moves from a molten state to its hard, transparent phase. It is said to be one of the great unsolved problems in physics. While apparently solid, the glass retains certain properties of a liquid. At times, ways of making glass have been highly confidential; in Venice in the Middle Ages, disclosure of manufacturing techniques was a capital offence. Despite the complexity and mystery of the science of glass, glass technology has continued to advance from sheet glass to crystal glass, optical glass and prisms, to float glasses, chemical glassware, fibre optics and metal glasses.

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  • Dame Athene Donald 3 episodes
    Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge
  • Jim Bennett 11 episodes
    Former Director of the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford and Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum
  • Paul McMillan No other episodes
    Professor of Chemistry at University College London

Reading list

  • Glass Science
    Robert H. Doremus (Wiley-Interscience, 1994) Google Books →
  • A History of Glassmaking
    R. W. Douglas and Susan Frank (G T Foulis & Co Ltd, 1972) Google Books →
  • New Science of Strong Materials: Or Why You Don't Fall Through the Floor
    J. E. Gordon (Pitman Publishing, 1979) Google Books →
  • The Properties of Glass
    George W. Morey (Reinhold Publishing Corp, 1954) Google Books →
  • The Glass Bathyscaphe: How Glass Changed the World
    Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin (Profile Books, 2002) Google Books →
  • Glass in the Modern World
    F. J. Terence Maloney (Aldus Books, 1967) Google Books →
  • Glass-Ceramics (Non-Metallic Solids: Volume 1)
    P. W. McMillan (Academic Press Inc, 1979)
  • Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World
    Mark Miodownik (Penguin, 2014) Google Books →
  • Inorganic Glass-Forming Systems
    H. Rawson (Academic Press, 1967) Google Books →
  • The Substance of Civilization: Materials and Human History from the Stone Age to the Age of Silicon
    Stephen L. Sass (Arcade Publishing, 1998) Google Books →

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Programme ID: b05w456c

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Auto-category: 620.1 (Glass)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Around 5,000 years ago, the Egyptians were using glass to make beads, melting sand at very high temperatures and cooling it rapidly in water.