Fossil amber shatters theories of glass as a liquid

May 7, 2013 by Karin Slyker
Fossil amber shatters theories of glass as a liquid
20-million-year-old Dominican fossil amber

( —Fact or fiction? Stained glass found in medieval cathedrals becomes thicker at the bottom because glass moves over time. For years researchers have had their doubts, now a team at Texas Tech University has further evidence that the glass is not going anywhere.

" is related to the performance of materials, whether it is inorganic or ," said Gregory McKenna, professor of chemical engineering at Texas Tech. "For example, this would be important to people who own a boat made of fiberglass, or fly in an airplane made with epoxy-based composites. Information like that can help predict if that jet will still be flying in 30 years."

The idea for this research came from a doctoral student's qualifying exam, McKenna said. He gave Jing Zhao a problem relating to diverging time-scales using polyvinyl acetate, a substance often found in adhesives. Her results were consistent with a lack of divergence – contrary to received thought. So they decided to up the ante by performing similar experiments on a much older, ultra-stable glass.

They chose 20-million-year-old Dominican amber, and together with Whitacre Department Chair and Horn Professor Sindee Simon, Zhao performed calorimetric and stress relaxation experiments on the samples.

"What we found is that the amber relaxation times did not diverge," McKenna said. "This result challenges all the classic theories of glass transition behavior."

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation under a grant from the Division of , Polymers Program. The process and results were recently published in Nature Communications.

Meanwhile, McKenna has recently acquired additional samples from around the world, including 220-million-year-old Triassic from Eugenio Ragazzi, a pharmacology professor at the University of Padova in Italy. The team now has plans to perform similar experiments on the new samples.

"We are in the very early stages," McKenna said. "However, our research definitely is 'to be continued.'"

Explore further: AGC creates 15% lighter glass for mobile devices

More information:

Related Stories

AGC creates 15% lighter glass for mobile devices

April 25, 2011

( -- Asahi Glass Co. (AGC), a Tokyo-based makers of flat glass, automotive glass, display glass, chemicals and other high-tech materials and components, has announced the creation of a the world's thinnest soda-lime ...

The surprising ooze factor of glass

May 1, 2013

( —Reach for a tall glass of iced tea. Don't drink. Look at the glass instead. The glass is an amorphous solid, consisting of molecules jumbled in disarray. It's the complete opposite of the ice in your drink. ...

Recommended for you

A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

November 25, 2015

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible ...

Moonlighting molecules: Finding new uses for old enzymes

November 27, 2015

A collaboration between the University of Cambridge and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, has led researchers to identify a potentially significant new application for a well-known ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3.1 / 5 (8) May 07, 2013
30 years ago I stored a 25 ml bulb pipette in a safe location where it would not be broken. It was stored 45' from horizontal by two points that were separated by the full length of the pipette and was submerged in water.

10 years later when it was inspected It's center had drooped under it's own weight by (from memory) 2 to 5 degrees.

2.3 / 5 (8) May 07, 2013
I don't understand how they can equate amber with glass. It's not like glass at all other than being hard to the touch.
May 07, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
3.7 / 5 (6) May 07, 2013
The "glass thicker at the bottom of the frame" notion of amorphous glass is a hugely publicised conjecture that has been going on for well over a century. It stems from a profound misunderstanding about how glass was made in the past. Glassblowers created a large disk of glass that was thicker at the center than the edges. Small panes were then cut out of it. The thicker ends were put at the bottom of the frames or leading.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.