This High-Tech Silicate Film Cracks in the Weirdest and Prettiest Ways

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When glass cracks, the result usually 1) very bad and 2) haphazardly damaged across the surface. But scientist in Paris are studying thin films that crack in predictable patterns, at once beautiful and weird, that could be repurposed to make microscopic devices.

The study recently published in Physical Review Letters looks at delicate silicate films, which are usually used to coat the insides of lasers. Depending the thickness of the material and the triggering force, cracks of all different shapes can appear: a spiral, a series of crescents, long repeating bands, etc. As the film cracks and peels away from the surface underneath, it also appears to change color in the light.


It's pretty, but the cracks could also be functional. The researchers tell New Scientist this could be a new way to make patterns on a microscopic scale. Devices inside machines that test medical samples, for instance, need tiny channels for moving small amounts of fluid through them. For now, watching the film crack is weirdly hypnotic, perfect for finishing out an already too-long week. [New Scientist]

Images via Marthelot et al/Physical Review Letters