Since the moment mobile phones entered the domain of wireless communication in the 1990s, there have been countless transformations in functionality, aesthetic parameters and overall user experience. Terms like ‘processor’, ‘operating system’ and ‘internal memory’, which we use so often now in relation with smartphones, were not so common only a few decades ago. Mobile phone popularity reached even more impressive heights after smartphones appeared in the last decade, and that popularity doesn’t appear to be fading anywhere in the near future.
With such a large consumer base, it was crucial that smartphones, as expensive devices, should be protected against scratches and other external damage if possible. At that point, a special material stepped into the spotlight. You may know it by the name ‘Gorilla glass’.
What is Gorilla Glass?
Gorilla Glass is the brand name of a special type of glass that is manufactured by a company named Corning (other companies that manufacture this type of glass include Asahi Glass Co. and Schott AG; their products are called Dragontrail and Xensation, respectively). The design of Gorilla glass is such that it is extremely tough, but incredibly thin and light. This glass is used as a cover for portable electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops, music players, computer displays and television screens to protect them against scratches and other (minor) external damages without affecting the sensitivity of the screens or significantly adding to the device’s weight.
In other words, it’s the kind of glass that can withstand a whole lot of physical punishment!
How is Gorilla Glass Made?
Corning, the manufacturer of Gorilla Glass, takes silicon dioxide (a chemical compound containing silicon and oxygen) and mixes it with various other compounds to make a glass melt. The glass hence produced is referred to as aluminosilicate; in simple words, it is a chemical combination of aluminium, silicon and oxygen. This glass melt also contains sodium atoms, which are crucial in the subsequent stage of manufacturing Gorilla Glass.
This molten glass is then poured into a V-shaped trough, which is filled until the glass overflows through the sides of the trough. Then, robot hands draw sheets of this molten glass along the edges of the trough. That’s some pretty smart thinking! Each of these sheets is roughly 0.5 millimeters thick.
The Ion Exchange
What’s an ion?
An ion is just an atom, so why does it have a separate name all for itself? Why is there any discrimination?
Let me explain a bit further; an ion is an atom that has a net charge. An atom does not carry any charge, because it’s neutral, since the number of electrons is equal to the number of protons in a normal atom. An ion is said to be negatively charged when it has more electrons than protons, and positively charged when it has less electrons than protons. Pretty basic, right?
What do ions have to do with Gorilla Glass?
The aluminosilicate that we mentioned earlier contains sodium ions. To make the glass ‘compressible’, sodium ions are replaced by potassium ions.
This is done because potassium ions are larger than sodium ions, and can therefore undergo compression (which is a good thing). You want glass that can compress, rather than shatter under pressure.
How are potassium ions added to the glass?
The molten glass is placed in a hot ‘salt bath’ (containing potassium) at a temperature of about 400 degrees Celsius (750 degrees Fahrenheit). The smaller sodium ions bid adieu to the molten glass and the larger potassium ions enter the mix. These potassium ions, being bigger in size, take up more room on the glass surface, so when pressed together during cooling, they provide a protective layer against external pressure.
Corning is not allowed to disclose the names of every product that uses Gorilla Glass, but there are a few products and companies that have publicly announced their use of Gorilla Glass protection. These include television sets from BRAVIA, certain smartphones and tablets from Samsung, and the Dell Streak.
Gorilla Glass is undoubtedly a cutting-edge product, but what amazes me most is the unique name! It gives an immediate idea of how much pressure, wear, tear, and Gorilla-like usage that type of glass can withstand. Still, it wouldn’t be a great idea to throw it in front of a gorilla for protection, especially not one with a temper!