back to article Alumina in glass could stop smartphones cracking up

Trekkies will remember how Scotty bestowed transparent aluminium on the world in Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home. Now Japanese researchers have added alumina to glass to try and make it tough enough for the hard life of the smartphone. In Nature Scientific Reports, the boffins from the University of Tokyo and Japan's Synchrotron …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Lord Raa

      Isn't that what they call "victim blaming" these days?

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        "Isn't that what they call "victim blaming" these days?"

        No, it's called "taking responsibility"

        1. Lord Raa

          @James Micallef

          I am of the same opinion, however, my travels through the intertubes has led me to believe that a great many people believe that asking people to take personal responsibility is the same thing as victim blaming.

          It's part of the "my feelings are more important than the facts" attitude that some people have these days.

          Looking back, I should have used the troll icon.

      2. fruitoftheloon

        @Lord Raa

        My Lord,

        To answer your question: no.

        It's called 'asking a question'...



    2. MAF

      Ultimate test

      Given the price of some phones - you'd think people would take better care of their shiny-shinies - wouldn't you?

      But some people have that interesting additional property - small children :-)

      Any phone manufacturer worth their salt would be well advised to hire some of these little darlings for product destruction testing (Forget 'will it blend?')

      Also, with insurance deals protecting their bubble, 'accidents' give people an opportunity (cough) for a hardware upgrade...

      1. tony2heads

        Re: Ultimate test

        Dogs are also a menace to phones.

      2. Known Hero

        Re: Ultimate test

        I have 3 children all boys under 8, and a Evil cat.

        I also have 4 phones in the house and 3 tablets.

        The only broken screens can be attributed to my wife on numerable occasions, she has broken at least 4 phones & lost 2. The children and I have never broken a phonescreen yet. the cat is responsible for 1 broken screen.

        I blame people being careless, the devices themselves are pretty good if you treat them with the relevant care.

        1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

          Re: Ultimate test

          Most of the broken phones I know of were folk who didn't put them in a cover. Perhaps images is more important than risk looking like and old fart, but this old fart has not broken a phone glass in the last 15 years in spite of several drops due to having them in a gimp mask leather-effect cover.

          Oh yes, and the recent rend of having the glass right to the edge is not helping either, as less of the phone body to absorb the impact on a corner impact.

        2. Sykobee

          Re: Ultimate test

          I think there's something about handbags and mobile phones that leads to them breaking.

          Men stick 'em in their pockets where they're safe (well, front pockets are safe). Women stick them in the great tardis void of their handbag, so it's not a surprise when other hard things in the bag damage it.

          However I used to see a lot of cracked screens in the past on my commutes, but the last year or two they have been far less common (and often have working screens under the cracked glass), so I presume a combination of more advanced gorilla glass, better cases, more flexible LCD arrays, etc, have all improved things.

          I have cracked the screen on one phone, ironically in my front pocket at the time, when bending over in a non-health-and-safety-advised-manner to pick up something. That a toddler dropped.

          1. cray74

            Re: Ultimate test

            "Men stick 'em in their pockets where they're safe (well, front pockets are safe). "

            I just killed my Droid 4 in a front pocket. It didn't crack the screen, but the screen stopped working except when wiggled and moved into exactly the correct half-open position, and then that stopped working. I'm guessing I damaged the sliding contacts.

        3. Trollslayer Silver badge

          Re: Ultimate test

          Isn't "Evil cat" redundant?

        4. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Re: Ultimate test

          Do you mean your wife and cat or the phones?

          Remember this could well be an ultimate test, so careful what you say.

        5. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Swarthy Silver badge

        Re: Ultimate test (Forget 'will it blend?')

        Never mind, "Will it blend?", "Will it Toddle?"

    3. Triggerfish

      I don't really take much care of mine tbh, it has to go in my pocket and cope with my lifestyle. I really hate having delicate bits of shiny that I have to spend my day worrying about. My last phone had dents in the casing, couple of years back with first smartphone and being abroad it really annoyed me that I had to keep thinking about it and whether it was ok.

      1. Baskitcaise


        I really hate having delicate bits of shiny that I have to spend my day worrying about.

        You have shiny delicate bits????

        Bloody hell, you could make a fortune sir/madam but I fear that is a bit too much information in this forum.

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: WOT!!!

          I'm sure there's a joke somewhere about getting something polished.

    4. Martin Budden Bronze badge

      Get a TPU case for your phone. Seriously, these cases are the dog's danglies.

      1. Triggerfish

        Yeah I always get a good case, if the phones going to be abused by my care I think its only fair it has a fighting chance.

      2. fishman

        "Get a TPU case for your phone."

        I bought TPU cases for our Nexus 4 phones. They were 2-3 bucks w/ shipping. My wife drops her phone a couple of times a week, and it has no visible damage and still runs fine.

    5. Peter Galbavy

      It usually involves alcohol or other intoxicants, at least amongst those people I know who care to own up to why their phones are smashed - just like them.

    6. Pirate Dave Silver badge


      " but I do wonder just how so many phone screens get damaged"

      The ex-wife has caused the death of at least 3 of my mobiles in the past 12 years. All of them crushed, broken, smashed into tiny bits. I finally learned to just not answer when she called.

    7. Gene Cash Silver badge

      I drop shit. It just fucking happens.

      That's (one of many reasons) why I have a cheap Moto G instead of a Nexus-whatever or Samsung-whatever. Amazingly, it has a rather long crack along one edge but the touchscreen functions just fine.

    8. Bushwood Smithie

      You obviously don't have a seven-year-old male child residing in the same household.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge


    Count the whales!

    1. Si 1

      Hello, Computer

      Just use the keyboard...

  3. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Isn't transparent alumina also known as

    Sapphire? (

  4. Mage Silver badge

    Yes Transparent Alumina = Sapphire

    Sapphire Glass

    Been used for analogue watches for a very long time indeed. Problematic to make larger windows. Also while it's very hard so scratch resistant, a panel of it is easier to crack than some glasses.

    It's interesting they have found a way to blend Alumina and glass. I'd have thought an alumina film on glass substrate (meta material) would be better.

    1. Your alien overlord - fear me

      Re: Yes Transparent Alumina = Sapphire

      Time to get the ISS to pay it's keept - put a glass factory in outerspace !!! Low grvity should do wonders for the mixing process.

    2. Tim Worstal

      Re: Yes Transparent Alumina = Sapphire

      Hmm, dunno. A quick search for "alumina in glass" brings up, first page, a paper from 1947. So it's not exactly a new idea. It's the method to get a high alumina glass, not alumina glass, which is new.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yes Transparent Alumina = Sapphire

      No, because you'd just end up with a laminate, and laminated glass can still break while the laminate stays intact. No, what's needed here is a way to strengthen the entire glass so that every part of it is less vulnerable to cracking.

  5. Ivan Headache

    Young's modulus

    I'm curious. How do you test the stiffness of a 2mm sphere?

    Shirley you need to be able to bend it. Or do they just crush it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Young's modulus

      The easiest way to measure the stiffness might well be to use ultrasound to measure the speed of sound in the sphere, and calculate the modulus from that and it's density. (Density should be known or very easy to work out.)

      Sticking it in a conventional test machine means you have to figure out the differing components of tensile, compressive and bearing stress which will all occur in different regions when you compress the sphere. And then you have to separate out the effect of trying to create a dimple in the test machine bed when you compress a 2mm sphere into it.

      Of more concern is that these spheres are almost certainly pre-stressed due to the way they are manufactured and a flat sheet might well have a completely different strength and a slightly different modulus. (The modulus is not always linear with applied stress.)

      1. Pookietoo

        Re: these spheres are almost certainly pre-stressed

        A particular type of pre-stressed glass spheres on Wikipedia and YouTube.

  6. jzl


    Tell me when someone invents a time travelling warp speed spaceship and uses this glass to make a whale tank.

    1. PNGuinn

      Re: Boring

      Nah - still boring.

      Wake me when they use it for the varifocal lens on the laser fitted to the shark.

  7. Fibbles

    There's a Reg unit in there somewhere.

    Strength of smartphone screens to be measured in 'thickness required to create an aquarium for two hump-back whales'.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There's a Reg unit in there somewhere.

      May i propose the "blubber" or "ambergrist" as a unit.

  8. phy445

    It may be stiff enough (snigger)...

    But how tough is it? Glass is more than strong enough. The problem is dissipating the energy that gets dumped into the glass when your phone hits the floor (or dog bites it etc.) The paper linked in the report makes no mention of toughness. I suspect this story has been stretched to its limits by a university press office that cares more for getting more inches (more sniggering) in the press than reasonable reporting – an increasingly common problem as universities around the world have to fight for recognition/funding

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It may be stiff enough (snigger)...

      I don't know if you really have to go into toughness, given that glass (especially thin glass) is historically brittle, meaning the given goal of this project is to make it tougher, more plastic, and therefore less brittle, while at the same time maintaining the transparency we come to expect from the screen.

      1. cray74

        Re: It may be stiff enough (snigger)...

        I don't know if you really have to go into toughness,

        "Fracture toughness" is a useful, formal measurement of crack resistance in a material, valued in odd units like Pa*sqrt(m) or psi*sqrt(in). It is often referred to as simply "toughness" when discussing materials properties, such as when phy445 is reviewing the materials paper behind this El Reg article to find out if the researchers were successful in making the glass "tougher, more plastic, and therefore less brittle."

        It would be interesting to see some quantitative fracture toughness results from this project, but I guess they aren't at the point of making specimens large enough for Charpy and Izod testing. I just had an iPad-sized plate of alumina crack during testing that shouldn't have stressed the window much at all, so a tougher (and cheaper) alternative to large boule-grown sapphire would be nice.

    2. Kanhef

      Re: It may be stiff enough (snigger)...

      The article talks about how hard and stiff this glass is, but for a screen you really want toughness and a bit of elasticity. When a phone is dropped, it should be able to flex slightly to absorb the impact without cracking.

      1. Fibbles

        Re: It may be stiff enough (snigger)...

        Alternatively you can make your screen extremely hard (snigger) and dissipate the energy into the floor. It harkens back to Nokia's of old, so tough they'll crack concrete floors.

        1. Captain DaFt

          Re: It may be stiff enough (snigger)...

          Hey! Those Nokias were DANGEROUS!

  9. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects


    I am pretty sure that high silica glass has always been a product. It being made of silicon and oxygen the other half of the product would have been aluminium wouldn't it -or must I look it all up again?

    I gather they used some sort of ruby effect on early production supermarket tills to help them cope with wear and tear, how am I going to find out more about that?

    I am pretty sure shaping a search will be a difficulty.

    I think the cheaper glasses were produced by adding sodium and other metals such as lead to the matrix because it had the effect of lowering the melting point. Several decades ago Toyota or some Japanese firm began experimenting with vitreous enamels looking to make an engine that ran at very high temperatures.

    Does it seem that they finally got there?

    Jimmy Clark's son will be pleased.

  10. Slacker@work

    Transparent Alumnia...

    Been around since Mr Scott and the rest of the crew came back and saved the whales. Of course they now call it Aluminium oxynitride and make bullet proof things out of it

    1. cray74

      Re: Transparent Alumnia...

      Of course they now call it Aluminium oxynitride

      Among other things. Don't forget aluminum oxide (sapphire), silicon aluminum oxynitride (SiAlON), and other transparent aluminum compounds.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Aluminum Oxide isn't anything new and is basically artificial sapphire. Boules have been manufactured since the late 1800's. The military use it for bullet-proof glass. Apple uses it for their 'button'. As for a screen I used to think it'd be very cool... but, although it is strong, it does not flex as well as Gorilla Glass.... so it does have some disadvantages. It does have a better dielectric constant so it is better for capacitive touch. Very hard to manufacture and cut. Process takes a long time and lots of energy. So more expensive.

  12. jlabute

    Old News

    Aluminum Oxide has been around since the late 1800's. Artificial Sapphire is difficult to manufacture. Takes a lot of time and energy to create the boule and cut it. Although it sounds cool, it is not as flexible as Gorilla Glass so it has some disadvantages other than being more expensive. The military use it for bullet proof windows. Apple uses it for their touch 'button'. Sapphire has a higher dielectric constant so it is better for capacitive touch technologies.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Old News

      But the point here is that this is not crystalline "artificial Sapphire", it's amorphous glass.

      The whole point of this experiment was to keep the mixture from crystallising.

  13. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    2000 °C Oxygen

    Pretty much everything except glass does this in 2000 °C oxygen -->

  14. Pseudonymous Diehard


    But how will this affect my DynaTAC?

    I use this bastard for hammering in nails so the wife can hang shit 1980s art.

    I havent cracked it yet.

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