Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Glass, Glas, Vidrio, Vitrum, Verre, ὕαλος, 玻璃

I adore glass, both its liquid qualities and its brittle ones. Glass looks like it can flow, like magma, slow and glowing and molasses-like, but it can also be crafted so thinly that it looks as light as air, almost invisible in its clearest forms. I remember as a child loving the glass icicle Christmas ornaments more than any of the others, and I want someday to decorate a tree only in clear lights and glass icicles. Imagine how such a tree would sound when touched!

When in a museum, I'm always drawn to displays of ancient glass. The opalescent sheen and the weathered textures of ancient glass enchant me, along with the thought that such a fragile item has survived hundreds of years.

Roman pitcher, 2nd-4th Century CE, Honolulu Academy of Art

Some of this love of glass is also tied to my love of food, oddly enough. I am fascinated by liquid glass - why? Why, because it looks edible! While it's being shaped, glass is glowingly molten and pliable - like taffy or caramel for the gods. My love of glass and my love of sweets feed into each other: I love glass, in part, because it looks scrumptious, and I love foods that look and behave like glass. I can't get enough of oozing caramel, brittle toffee, or burnt sugar.

But did you know that scientists are still puzzled by the molecular structure of glass? A New York Times article recently explored the competing theories of why glass is hard. Yep, you read that right. It seems that glass has the same kind of molecular structure as that of liquids, which is random and jumbled. It is not like other materials, such as water or silica, whose molecules form neat, crystalline patterns when solidified. Glass in its solid form inexplicably looks like a liquid. From the article:
Philip W. Anderson, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at Princeton, wrote in 1995: “The deepest and most interesting unsolved problem in solid state theory is probably the theory of the nature of glass and the glass transition.”
So, there you go. Glass is not only beautiful, it's a mystery, even though we've worked with it for thousands of years.

Glass octopus bowl, a recent gift I received.


Lucian said...

In vino veritas, in vitro vinum.

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