Research today: Designing glass as easily as baking cookies
Glass is everywhere. Over the centuries it has been prized for its high transparency and extreme resistance to heat and acids. Until today however, using glass in microstructures was difficult and expensive. Now the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology’s Liquid Glass offers an alternative.30 Jan 2017
Glass is a fascinating material. Outstanding optical, chemical and thermal properties make it an ideal substance for parts that measure only a few micrometers. Think miniscule optical lenses, tubules with extremely small bores, or complex microsystems such as chip-size laboratories that analyze that smallest volumes of liquid.
Until now, creating such small structures from glass required the use of dangerous chemicals and a clean room, which is very difficult and expensive. Under the lead of Dr. Bastian E. Rapp, scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) will present an alternative at HANNOVER MESSE 2017: The "Liquid Glass" they developed is viscous at room temperature and can be shaped to any desired form, precured under light and hardened in an oven. Structuring glass parts is now as easy as baking cookies.
Straightforward and economical
The procedure is not only straightforward and economical, but also offers numerous creative advantages: "With Liquid Glass we can realize all conceivable forms, stack several components on top of each other, and duplicate each part by casting," explains Rapp, who leads the junior-scientist group "Neptunlab" at KIT. The base material for the procedure is a nanocomposite, a mixture of pulverized glass and synthetics, that can be processed like synthetics. To impart the desired form, the Karlsruhe researchers create a precise silicon mask of the original part or 3-D printout. They then add the glass-plastic mix and let it cure under UV-light irradiation. When the silicon mask is removed, the part retains its assumed shape. Several such parts can now be assembled into complex systems. A kiln is used to burn the material into pure glass, fusing the components.
Transparent and resistant
Parts and systems manufactured with this procedure have the same chemical and physical properties as products made from conventional glass – the same transparence and an equally smooth surface. Liquid Glass also enables the creation of complex structures in the micrometer range, such as closed cavities or channels. Prototypes of glass microsystems can be produced cost-effectively, for example, microfluidic chips that currently cost .50 euros per piece.
KIT's main exhibit at HANNOVER MESSE 2017 (24–28 April) is in Hall 2 at Stand B16 as part of the Research and Technology sector. In Hall 2, KIT's materials scientists will show visitors everything that is possible with Liquid Glass. KIT will also be in Hall 27 (Energy) at Stand H51 as well as at additional special exhibits.
A video about the Liquid Glass procedure is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsZL7zajgr0 .
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