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updated 1/7/2013 4:22:03 PM ET 2013-01-07T21:22:03

If only science could do the same for cheese or wine.  

An unusual way of making glass could create glassy materials as durable as amber — which is considered a glasslike material — that's been around for thousands of years, a new study has found. In other words, researchers have figured out a way to make new glass act just like aged glass.

Knowing how to make ultra-stable, aged glass could help researchers make stronger metals,  according to a statement  from the University of Chicago, where the lead study scientist, Juan de Pablo, is a professor of molecular engineering. Stable glass-making techniques could also make drugs that, like super-stable glass, don't have crystals in their molecular structure and therefore dissolve more quickly in the body. 

The glass here isn't made in the same way as vases and juice tumblers are. Glassware for the home is made by cooling molten glass into a solid shape. But Mark Ediger, a chemist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked with de Pablo, built the new glass by heating it to a molten form and then a vapor, then letting the vapor settle layer by layer onto a hard surface. The result was a denser, stronger material that withstands higher temperatures than conventionally made glass does. [SEE ALSO:  New Self-Cleaning Glass Avoids Fogging, Glare ]

Ediger first made his vapor-layered glass years ago and discovered its unusual properties. He was never sure, however, if what he made was an evolved type of ordinary glass, or a new material altogether. So he collaborated with de Pablo and Sadanand Singh, a doctoral student in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, to create a computer program to check his work. 

The program modeled the vapor-layering process and found that it did create a super-stable glass, just like glass that has had millennia to settle into an even, strong  molecular structure. In comparison, newer, conventionally made glass has a jumbled, uneven structure. 

The program helped de Pablo and his team understand how different arrangements in glass molecules lead to differences in strength between conventionally made glass and its super-strong versions. 

"It had been believed until now that there is no correlation between the mechanical properties of a glass and the molecular structure," de Pablo said. "Once you create these materials, you see that the structure, the differences between ordinary and stable glasses are clearly there and are actually pronounced."

De Pablo and his colleagues  published a paper  about their work yesterday (Jan. 6) in the journal Nature Materials.

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