An accidental discovery has led to the creation of the world’s thinnest sheet of glass – at just one molecule thick.
The ‘pane’ of glass is so impossibly thin that its individual silicon and oxygen atoms are clearly visible using a microscope.
The discovery may someday lead to a defect-free, ultra-thin material that could improve the performance of processors in computers and smartphones.
The glass was identified by chance in the lab of David Muller, professor of applied and engineering physics at Cornell University.
Professor Muller had been making graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms, in a chicken wire crystal formation.
He noticed some ‘muck’ on the graphene, and when he took a closer look, found it to be made up of the elements of everyday glass; silicon and oxygen.
‘When the first images came up on the computer screen we were just blown away,’ he told MailOnline.
‘The mystery atoms were the elements of everyday glass, silicon and oxygen.
‘But more amazing, their arrangement looked exactly like the cartoons proposed 81 years ago as to how atoms in a glass might be arranged so that it would be stable.
‘And here, for the first time, we were actually seeing that.’
It took the research team another year to understand how the glass might have grown.
They concluded that an air leak had caused the copper to react with the quartz, also made of silicon and oxygen.
How big a sheet of one molecule thick glass would stay together? It seems this is only a microscopic phenomena at the moment.