Of all the movies destined to equal BACK TO THE FUTURE II in accurately foretelling 2015’s eventual innovations, we have to admit, nobody in the Unique Hunters office pool picked STAR TREK: THE VOYAGE HOME. And yet, behold, Transparent Aluminum. No whales in space, though. Yet.
More specifically, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory scientist Dr. Jas Sanghera describes the material as the mineral “magnesium aluminate”, with even greater strength, hardness and durability than typical glass and some exciting potential to provide fairly impressively advanced protection against rain and sand erosion in hostile environments with a much thinner spinel layer.
That’s no small advantage when it comes to weight-sensitive unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs) and head-mounted face shields that are certainly better served when sent into potential combat unburdened by the weight that the most protective existing glass adds due to the thickness needed for it to shield effectively. In battle, every advantage in lightweight mobility that doesn’t compromise protection counts.
The mineral powder is converted into transparent sheets by placing powder first treated in a hot press under a vacuum that forces out entrapped air as the particles are forced together. As a finishing touch before final refinement into their finished products, the sheets are then ground and polished for the cleanest edges and clearest visibility. It may take time for the material’s cost to come down, but Sanghera foresees a day when Transparent Aluminum becomes the protective screen material of choice used in smartphones and watches.