back to article Glass aeroplanes and iPads on the way, say boffins

A new breakthrough in superspeed pulse mould technology will allow aeroplanes, mobile phone casings and suchlike to be made out of a miraculous type of glass which is as tough as metal, according to the inventors of the new process. So-called "metallic glass" has been well known since 1960 and has been in industrial production …


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  1. Ian Ferguson


    (props to Neal Asher)

    As this is metal with some properties of glass, not glass with some properties of metal, I presume it is not transparent; so calling it 'metallic glass' is a bit misleading.

  2. Virtualaaron

    Obvious quote...

    'How do we know he didn't invent it in the first place?'

  3. z0mbee

    Transparent Aluminium?

    ...this wasn't invented in San Francisco, was it?

    1. DJV Silver badge


      No, if it had been it would have been called "Transparent Aluminum"

      Ok, I'll get me coat...

    2. Jerome 0


      I wondered the same thing, and as far as I can see this stuff can't be made transparent. It seems it's more often known as "amorphous metal", though naturally the media prefer the far cooler sounding "metallic glass".

      So I guess we won't be looking down through a glass floor from 30,000 feet any time soon.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        And it'll be pronounced as

        "Transpairaint (notice the twang) Aloominum"

        Mines the one with slightly xenophobic undertones woven into it.

        1. Rovindi

          Pronounced as it probably should be...

          "(Humphrey) Davy settled on aluminum by the time he published his 1812 book Chemical Philosophy: "This substance appears to contain a peculiar metal, but as yet Aluminum has not been obtained in a perfectly free state, though alloys of it with other metalline substances have been procured sufficiently distinct to indicate the probable nature of alumina."

          (source -

          Last time I checked, he was British...

      2. Anonymous Coward

        @ Jerome

        "So I guess we won't be looking down through a glass floor from 30,000 feet any time soon."

        Not even sure I'd want to...especially for x number of hours. I (and the rest of the Acrophobics) would be gibbering wrecks...

      3. Spanners Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        @Jerome 0

        I looked down through a glass floor/window of an aircraft over 30 years ago. It was a KC135 tanker transport. As it was being used for transporting my unit to the USA, the refueling facility was not in use. I found it much comfier than the standard military seating.

      4. Charles Manning

        Look down at the baggage in the hold

        What a view!

    3. Linker3000


      Indeed, it's clearly (heh!) a 'glassy metal'

    4. 0laf Silver badge
      Thumb Up


      Had the same thoughts exactly.

      I'll have to link him on his blog.

    5. Chemist

      Glass is one of the names used..

      for these disorder states of matter. Amorphous could also be applied. Most non-crystalline materials are not transparent. One of the routine challenges most organic chemists face when synthesising new compounds is to convert an often mass of sticky gum or stiff glass into a crystalline material.

    6. Eddy Ito Silver badge
      Thumb Up


      It was invented in Lexington Massachusetts, if you're thinking of aluminium oxynitride, aka ALON, anyway. Best part, the patent was granted in 1985 so it's been free for a few years now.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not sure

      but 3M did that years ago- just not with ohmic heating.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    transparent al uminum mr scott.?? well done

    well i presume star trek were not too far wrong when they used transparent aluminium for a fish tank....

    oh yeah i know whales arent fish..... smart ass...!!

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      And neither...

      ...was the tank transparent alumin(i)um - Scotty got the necessary perspex (or plexiglass) in exchange for the formula for TA.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    glass planes

    Is it just me thats thinking this will make the mile high club a lot more interesting

    1. Anonymous Coward


      at least you know she won't be counting the cracks in the ceiling...

  6. Wize

    Glass Planes?

    Wonderwoman already had one.

  7. JeffyPooh Silver badge

    If you want a sample of metalglass...

    Open up one of those anti-shiplifting tags, the sort used in CDs and DVDs (not the spiral type, but the layered sticks). According to something I read somewhere, the metal layers inside are this crystal-free metalglass alloy.

    1. Joel 1

      That's heavy, man...

      I'd have thought that most ports rely on the mass of the ships to prevent people carrying them off....

  8. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Glass metal desks

    ...will make fapping in the workplace much harder...

    my dirty mind and I go to wonderful places...

  9. Marky W
    Paris Hilton

    Apple already in this game

    From last August (Liquidmetal counter-inuitively makes solid metal glass):

    According to the vid, metal glass is also super-bouncy. Paris, as she's super-bouncy too.

    1. Anton Ivanov
      Thumb Up

      It has one more property

      The biggest bugbear with plastics are the things like the European Waste disposal directive and/or further tightening of the recycling regime. Plastic can never be recycled properly. The recycled material is always inferior mechanically to the original one. Glass does not have this problem. So if you have to take back stuff the way electronics, cars and white goods are regulated in the EU (and most of the world) and if you are obliged to recycle at least 90%+ of it metal glass starts making LOTS of sense.

      So if apple has bought the IPR on this it can now start driving 99% recycling or force the issue on recycling all casings, etc. It will be able to do it at much lower cost than its competitors and can demonstrate some green cred and keep the greenies happy.

  10. F111F
    Paris Hilton

    To Quote My Wife...

    "stiffness isn't everything, but it is a good start." Aircraft parts have to have flexibility as well. I'd like to see a LOT of testing on how well this "wondro-stuff" handles repeated loading over thousands of cycles.

    Paris...the patron saint of stiffys

  11. NoneSuch

    No matter how wonderous the material... boss will still break it. Idiocy and ignorance trumps technology every single time.

  12. Michael 47

    Can't see it being that useful for aeroplanes...

    As i understand it, while amorphous metal has some fantastic properties, it's not too good for load bearing or high stress use as small cracks propogate far easier through amorphous materials as crystal boundaries usually stop cracks propogating (this is why regular glass shatters so easily)

  13. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Prior art

    Wonder woman's plane was transparent too.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      OK... but I bet I can make a great driver out of it

      TaylorMade...are you listening? The stock for your r15 beckons!

  14. Richard Scratcher

    You can already buy this sort of stuff from General Products

    1. Graham Marsden

      Erm, ok...

      ... but I can't see any Pierson's Puppeteers around here right now...

      1. Getter lvl70 Druid Silver badge

        And never will...

        ... if we keep dicking around and don't get off this planet!

  15. Lloyd
    Thumb Up


    And there was me worrying I'd look a bit geeky if I mentioned transparent aluminium.

  16. SuperTim

    Has nobody actually grasped this article?

    The "Glass" part of this is the structure, not the fact it is transparent. Metallic glass will look like metal but be an order of magnitude stronger because of it's glass like structure. Like how a glass vase is stronger whole than broken to bits and glued together.

  17. Mark .


    So, another news article that is nothing to do with Apple (no more than any other phone or computer manufacturer), but we still have to have the obligitary Apple mention.

    (If history is anything to go by, this feature will appear first in other smartphones, perhaps even feature phones, whilst Apple fans say "But why would I want that?" Then later it'll be featured in an Apple phone, and be hailed as revolutionary...)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Of course they have

      but "they" seem to be also capable of seeing an amusing side to the story.

      Lighten up a bit and have a beer.

      1. wim

        can I have my beer

        in a metal glass please ?

    2. jubtastic1

      John I'm only dancing

      Don't know about the iPhone guts but there's a metalglass sim removal tool in each iPhone box, I only mention this because it's clear you will find this trivia mildly annoying and because it's unnervingly strong for a paperclip like object.

      1. Adam Foxton

        A what?

        A metalglass SIM removal tool? Couldn't they just have designed the phone properly so I didn't need specialised tooling to do something that every user (or at least every secondhand user) will have to do? You're right, that is mildly annoying.

        Also, is it actually Metalglass or just perspex? using Metalglass seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a tool that shouldn't exist...

  18. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Unnecessary inventions

    I have enough trouble with the idea of being catapulted through the air in a tin can, I don't think I could cope with transparent tin can.

  19. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Don't all rush at once

    An injection moulding process that requires a megawatt or more for a fist-sized bullet is NOT going to be scaled up to the size of aircraft wings any time soon.

    1. Marcus Aurelius

      Doesn't need to be the whole wing

      Wings are mostly hollow; so it would presumably be used for the spars and ribs. I'm not sure it would be used for the skin as they're in love with carbon fiber at the moment for that

      1. Mips
        Jobs Halo

        Carbon fibre mixed with amorphus metal


        Now we have joint problems

    2. Asgard

      @Ken Hagan

      @"An injection moulding process that requires a megawatt or more for a fist-sized bullet is NOT going to be scaled up to the size of aircraft wings any time soon."

      "a sub-millisecond period a full megawatt of power" ... is not the same as a megawatt hour. (Because its only a sub-millisecond period).

      A capacitor bank could easily achieve a brief pulse at a megawatt. Also capacitor banks have been built much bigger than 1 megawatt per pulse.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Glass planes?

    Nothing new. We've had the tech to build ceramic ones (with similar properties as metalo-glass) for years.

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "glassy" is a state of matter, It's *not* transparent.

    In fact opacity depends on the bonding between different atoms. The near *total* lack of order in this solid might make it *more* opaque than crystallised metal.

    Note that most metal glasses are made by rapid *cooling* at around 1000 000 deg /sec by praying a sheet at a fast spinning water cooled copper cylinder. Only the thinness of the sheets *allows* the cooling to be this fast. AFAIK the *big* use of this stuff is in transformers and other magnetic components due to *much* better magnetic properties. However their temperature limit is *low*. While the raw alloy might be good to the Curie point of the alloy this stuff will start loosing its properties c275c as the atoms start to move and in principle it will begin to re-crystallize outward from whatever crystalline material it's in contact with.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Glassic Metal

    Better name than metalic glass.

  23. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    but but...

    "...rather extremely rapid "ohmic heating". A brief but extremely powerful jolt of electric current is passed through the 2cm metalglass billet..."

    We use a similar process to join pieces of metal all the time, albeit with a billet somewhat smaller in diameter ~3mm and usually covered in a protective material that burns off to prevent oxidation. Sometimes we use a shielding gas supplied from a tank and delivered through a handle that feeds very thin metal billet from a spool into the area of metal joining. I've heard some of the guys talk about using Russian jets but I think the fumes must be getting to them.

    1. Mips
      Jobs Halo

      We are talking spot welding

      Are we not?

  24. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Up

    new things

    So will this new material make objects much small, thinner, lighter if the material is far stronger?

    So very thin bikes, light cars, etc.?

    I can imagine that in 50years time, kids will think of our cars are being massively thick and heavy. A bit like how we look at cars from the 1940s.

  25. Anonymous Coward


    JeffyPooh those same "anti theft" tags can also be used as magnetic sensors if you insert the rolled up metglas sheet into a surplus reed switch coil.

    Someone nearly won the 555 design contest with this.


  26. NoOnions


    I was really hoping this was going to be like 'Star Wars Universe' transparisteel - oh well!

  27. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    The difference between this process and spot welding

    Spot welding (like *all* electric welding processes) does indeed cause localized melting.

    Note that word *localized*.

    This is talking about flash melting the *whole* workpiece.

    AFAIK the nearest thing to this level of drama in current production is "flash" welding, where the two parts to be joined have a large current run through them to melt the side of the join then most of the molten metal is "squished" out of the join leaving (in theory) a *very* narrow molten zone (whose properties are *always* inferior to the processed solid metal) which quickly cools to join the two unmelted parent metal sides.

    Note also that "high energy rate" metal forming processes using capacitor discharges, combustion and explosives have been in (limited) development and use since the 1960s.

    Melting a *whole* billet (or super heating already molten metal by a *wide* margin to reduce its viscosity to make injection molding easy) ups the game considerably in terms of energy stored and how fast it's dumped into the workpiece.

  28. Dropper


    I'm sure someone has thought of this, but there is a reason why planes are made of conductive material, which I don't believe glass generally is.. If you've ever witnessed a plane landing during a lightening storm you'd have noticed they don't explode when struck. Or at least you would have definitely noticed they did explode because a lot less planes would be making their scheduled arrival time and if you think the wait at Heathrow is long now, wait until message boards start giving the odds for arrival rather than times.

  29. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    To correct my mis-typing.

    "Glassy" is more a word describing matter with a certain degree of *order* because the archetypal material *with* this level of order is glass.

    It might have been clearer if they called it "Amorphous," nanocrystalline or even "vitreous" metal (that one would be a pretty old fashioned term).

    Amorphous selenium was the photo conductor of choice in photocopiers. IIRC it was pitch black and opaque but definitely "glassy".

    Such materials have *short* range order but no long range order. Whereas normal metals can have crystals visible to the naked eye in size (if properly etched) glassy order is limited to a few molecules before the next clump starts at a *completely* random orientation.

    To make something transparent you need to make the band gap between its valence and electron energy bands greater than the energy of the *highest* frequency light you want to let though. Roughly 2eV for the full visible spectrum.

    Normal electron bonding in metals does not work *that* way.

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