Posted: March 2, 2010

Scientists expand the potential uses for glass through a study into how atoms vibrate

(Nanowerk News) Scientists from the Functional Materials Group at the University of Kent’s School of Physical Sciences (SPS) have expanded the potential uses of glass by developing an experimental technique that reveals more clearly how atoms in glass vibrate.
This new technique will make a significant contribution to the Functional Materials Group’s current research into the use of glass as a material for applications such as nuclear waste immobilisation and as a biomaterial. Specific applications for the latter include the development of a biodegradable glass for bone regeneration.
The team’s experiment, described in a recent editor’s choice paper by the journal Physical Review B ("Probing vibrational modes in silica glass using inelastic neutron scattering with mass contrast"), involved using several types of glass containing different isotopes of oxygen which, due to the difference in mass between the isotopes, vibrate at different speeds. The speed of these vibrations was then measured via a technique known as inelastic neutron scattering.
Dr Gavin Mountjoy, Head of the Functional Materials Group and principal investigator on the project, explained: ‘Knowledge of how atoms vibrate in solids is fundamental for explaining the thermal properties of materials; for example, in materials used for energy production, which operate at high temperatures. However, it has always been difficult to study atoms vibrating in glasses because the atoms are not arranged in a regular, predictable way as they are in crystals. To date, the understanding of this phenomenon has been heavily reliant on computer simulations.’
Co-investigator Bob Newport, Professor of Materials Physics at SPS, added: ‘Since a new methodology has been established, it can be exploited to study a range of different glasses.’
Source: University of Kent