It’s Official: National Day Celebrates All Things Glass

Architecture, art, healthcare, packaging, communication, and more—every segment of the glass industry gathered in Washington, D.C., in April to officially kick off the U.S. celebration of the International Year of Glass (IYOG). Organized by the American Ceramic Society, the National Day of Glass provided a two-day exploration into the past, present, and future of all things glass. Participants included representatives from manufacturers and suppliers, government organizations, academia, art and more.

Kathleen Richardson, who serves as National Day of Glass convening chair, said that while the event provides a historical perspective of glass, it’s also in line with the United Nations’ 2023 goals to highlight the future direction glass is expected to take us.

Amazing Glazing

The event began with a dynamic presentation from Wendell Weeks, chairperson and CEO of Corning Inc., who talked about why glass is vital to the future. Weeks discussed how scientists and engineers use glass to solve some of the toughest challenges and said the more it evolves, “the more glass has made its way into all of our lives.”

Weeks addressed four critical attributes of glass: stability, strength, interaction with light, and impermeability. Speaking of its stability, he pointed out that glass can endure for millennia. It’s stable at the macro level but can change at the micro level. On its strength, he said historically, glass is considered fragile but “is incredibly strong.” He pointed to Corning’s Gorilla Glass, initially made for the iPhone, as an example of strength.

Weeks also talked about the interaction of glass with light and manipulating the relationship between the two. Huge strides have occurred in this area, such as in optical fibers for telecommunications.

Regarding natural impermeability, Weeks said glass has been used for thousands of years as a container because of its effectiveness in protecting contents. That was critical most recently in developing the COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to advanced pharmaceutical packaging. “Glass is amazing,” he said. “What will happen as we keep unlocking mysteries … think of the possibilities …The biggest contributions lie ahead.”

Age of Glass

Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age; what about the Glass Age? That’s what Stephen Eskilson, a professor at Eastern Illinois University, would like to see. An “age,” he said, is when a material defines an era in not only a technical and functional sense but also symbolical and metaphorical. Glass, he explained, has transitioned from an industrial to a digital age. “Not all materials can jump like that,” he said.

According to Eskilson, one of the key factors driving the Glass Age is visibility. “Glass has two front-facing practices: the skins of buildings and screens. It’s hard to compete with that visibility.”

John Mauro of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University continued the Glass Age discussion.

“Glass is an enabler for modern civilization and scientific discovery,” he said in his virtual presentation, which offered a look at research for the Glass Age. Before getting into the future, he said, the industry has to look at the past. That includes the importance of windows, which he described as a testament to outstanding engineering and science.

He also noted many other significant glass developments. These include optical lenses for eyeglasses, glass lenses for telescopes, which helped enable the entire field of modern astronomy, and glass lenses for microscopes, which facilitated microbiology. He also pointed to glass containers, including those used in the pharmaceutical industry, optical fibers, which made the internet possible, display glass, phones, and transportation.

The Next Generation

Mauro shared information from a survey he conducted with glass professionals asking about the glass products they felt had been most impactful. He mentioned the top three were glass lenses, optical fibers, and glass windows. The survey also found several important themes. These included the significance of optical transparency, mechanical strength, chemical durability, and the dominance of silicates.

Mauro also talked about the significance of glass for information technology.

“Glass played a big role in this,” he said, “And will continue to play a role in next-generation displays, augmented reality, quantum communications, and memory storage.” He added that glass revolutionized architecture and transportation. For example, he expects to see a move toward more interior display glass in automobiles as we move more and more toward driverless vehicles. Also, energy-efficient glazing will be critical in building future cities, including next-generation energy, such as wind energy and

The program also included a session from Naoki Sugimoto, AGC’s executive officer and general manager, Materials Integration Laboratories. He talked about developments in glass and how it continues to evolve, such as 5th Generation Communication (5G). He said we’re starting to see an explosion of mobile traffic. 5G communication technology uses high-frequency radio waves, raising several issues. In particular, transmitting through building materials can be difficult, and the coverage area of the antenna is smaller than 4G. AGC worked with DOCOMO, a mobile phone company, to develop a prototype technology that efficiently guides 28-GHz 5G radio signals from outdoors to specific locations indoors using a film-like metasurface lens that attaches to window surfaces. While technologies such as this are still in development, Sugimoto said it’s clear that glass continuously evolves.

The National Day of Glass was the first official IYOG event in the U.S., with many more scheduled. More information about those activities and the IYOG is available here and here

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