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Glass Explained

Via GeekPress: LiveScience explains the bizarre properties of glass that make its traffic jam of atoms neither a liquid nor a solid.

In the 1950s, Sir Charles Frank in the Physics Department at Bristol suggested that the arrangement of the “jam” should form what is known as an icosahedron, but at the time he was unable to prove it.

An icosahedron is like a 3-D pentagon, and just as you cannot tile a floor with pentagons, you cannot fill 3-D space with icosahedrons, Royall explained. That is, you can’t make a lattice out of pentagons.

When it comes to glass, Frank thought, there is a competition between crystal formation and pentagons that prevents the construction of a crystal. If you cool a liquid down and it makes a lot of pentagons and the pentagons survive, the crystal cannot form.

It turns out that Frank was right, Royall said, and his team proved this experimentally.

I found the news interesting both from an epistemological standpoint—what does it mean to have not understood glass to date and now to understand it?—and because I like writing about weird art forms or architectures or domes made of glass.