Minerals, Metals, and Other Materials

Man-Made Products

Is glass a solid or a liquid?

Even at room temperature, glass appears to be a solid in the ordinary sense of the word. However, it actually is a fluid with an extremely high viscosity, which refers to the internal friction of fluids. Viscosity is a property of fluids by which the flow motion is gradually damped (slowed) and dissipated by heat. Viscosity is a familiar phenomenon in daily life. An opened bottle of wine can be poured: the wine flows easily under the influence of gravity. Maple syrup, on the other hand, cannot be poured so easily; under the action of gravity, it flows sluggishly. The syrup has a higher viscosity than the wine.

Glass is usually composed of mixed oxides based around the silicon dioxide (SiO2) unit. A very good electrical insulator, and generally inert to chemicals, commercial glass is manufactured by the fusing of sand (silica, SiO2), limestone (CaCO2), and soda (sodium carbonate, Na2CO3) at temperatures around 2,552°F to 2,732°F (1,400°C to 1,500°C). On cooling, the melt becomes very viscous, and at about 932°F (500°C, known as glass transition temperature), the melt “solidifies” to form soda glass. Small amounts of metal oxides are used to color glass, and its physical properties can be changed by the addition of substances like lead oxide (to increase softness, density, and refractive ability for cutglass and lead crystal), and borax (to significantly lower thermal expansion for cookware and laboratory equipment). Other materials can be used to form glasses if rapidly cooled from the liquid or gaseous phase to prevent an ordered crystalline structure from forming.

Glass objects might have been made as early as 2500B.C.E. in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and glass blowing developed about 100B.C.E. in Phoenicia.


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