Part II: The Truth about Glass
So if glass isn’t a solid or a liquid, then what is it? Since the supercooled liquid is not a crystalline solid, physicists have argued that glass is a liquid, plasma, or possibly fifth state of matter. While the debate continues on, there have been some very interesting theories on the state of glass. Here are some of the top arguments:
- All materials of glass are structurally similar to a liquid, however, under ambient temperature they react to the impact of force. The reaction is that of elastic deformation, which places the material in the solid category.
- Some physicists propose more than the four states of matter, and others do not accept plasma as a fourth state to begin with. These discrepancies make it difficult to accept one answer over another. One proposition is that glass is in a fifth state of its own, called the vitreous state, but this theory is not widely accepted. The term “vitreous” is reserved for materials that are obtained from melts, but produce a compact form, or a thin coherent film. This definition would not apply to the makeup of glass.
- Crystalline solids are amorphous substances, and are usually characterized by short-range order. Long-range order (or periodicity) does not exist in amorphous substances. This does not mean that all amorphous solids are structurally random or gas-like.
- Glass has many properties in common with crystalline solids; specifically, hardness and elasticity of shape. While all glasses are amorphous, not all amorphous substances are glass.
- Glasses are the most structurally disordered types of solid known, which would make sense that they’re kinetically frozen forms of liquid.
- Solids are elastic when small stresses are applied. They will deform, but return to their original shape after the stress is gone. Some solids can be broken by higher stresses, but others exhibit plasticity. Plasticity means they not only deform, but they stay deformed once the stress is removed.
- Another way to determine if a material is a solid or a liquid is that is a minimum shear stress is required to produce a permanent deformation, then it’s definitely a solid. This is basically saying the material has some rigidity. Glass, of course, has a breaking point.
- Liquid is defined as a material that will “flow,” meaning if it’s placed in a container, it will eventually flow to fill the container. While glass most definitely does not fit this description, there are unfortunately special exceptions, which is why determining the true state of glass is still unresolved.
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