Real-time footage of silica rearrangements under stress will help understand the material

Image courtesy of Pinshane Huang, Jonathan Alden, David Muller, Simon Kurasch, Ute Kaiser

The images shows how the atoms in the glass move when they are subjected to shear deformation

A collaboration between US and German-based researchers has used transmission electron microscopy to watch how the atoms in glass rearrange.

While silica glass plays a wide range of roles in modern life, the structure of the amorphous material is still not really understood or how it changes under stress and strain. That could be important for your silicon chip or flexible fibre optic cable so scientists have been interested in learning more about its response to deformation and other insults.

Now, a group led by David Muller of Cornell University has used a probing electron beam to cause rearrangements in silica that they then imaged and captured on video in real time. Essentially they can watch the movements of the atomic building blocks of silica as they move about and adjust. Having proved the technique works, they might be able to see how different external stimuli affect silica and other amorphous materials.