It seems that the more advanced smartphones become, the easier they are to break. Accidentally destroying a handset’s screen is a common problem these days, but research carried out by the Australian National University (ANU) could lead to the development of completely shatter-proof displays.
Lead researcher Charles Le Losq said that while a type of glass called alumino-silicate, a mixture of aluminum and silicon oxide, is commonly used in smartphone screens, we still don’t know a lot about it. By adding elements such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, the researchers were able to alter the structure of the glass; a first step toward building a new product that is both more resilient and flexible.
"We've seen that if you add some sodium or potassium, those atoms, contrary to what was the belief, do not tend to randomly distribute in the glass structure, but they form more clusters, or even what we call percolation channels of sodium and potassium atoms in the glass," Le Losq told ZDNet.
The work could lead to a new types of shatterproof smartphone glass that sees the end of, or at least greatly reduces, accidental screen breakages, which can be very frustrating. But it seems there’s still work to do when it comes to adding scratch-resistant properties. Indeed, phones like the Motorola Moto Z2 already offer a "shatterproof" display, however it's had a hard time selling in volume (for a number of reasons), and despite the screen's resistance to accidental drops, it tends to scratch easily.
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"There is some balance between having something very hard [to resist scratches] and being very brittle [weak to cracking]," Le Losq said. “That's something that would have to be addressed by future research. We're not at that stage yet.”
"On a very fundamental level we're playing with two or three atoms, but now we need to extend this vision […] to really understand what happens when you add a particular type of atom in the structure of the glass and how that structure of atoms will change the glass' resistance."
Seven researchers from six universities in Australia, France, the United Kingdom and China worked together on the study, which Le Losq started in 2010 when he was working at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris. He added that the research also helped reveal the role lava played “in the "original formation of Earth and its surface."