You know that amazing feeling when you find a $20 bill in an old jacket pocket? It’s an unmatched thrill. That is, unless you’ve accidentally stumbled upon a Guinness Book of World Records-setting discovery that changes the very way the world thinks about a totally ubiquitous substance.
That’s what happened to scientists at Cornell University and Germany’s University of Ulm when they discovered the world’s thinnest sheet of glass while attempting to make graphene. They noticed what they called “muck” on the substance they were attempting to create, so they took a closer look. That look revealed something that wasn’t supposed to be there, something that had never before existed (at least, not to our knowledge). But thanks to a small air leak in their equipment, there was glass — glass that’s two atoms thick, making it the thinnest glass known to man.
In 1932 a physicist named William Houlder attempted to map out the arrangement of glass molecules, and though he came close, he never managed to pull it off. Yet this laboratory accident has allowed researchers to produce the exact arrangement of the atoms in glass via electron microscopy.
Interesting enough, but will it have real-world effects? Probably. While those aren’t mapped out yet, there is chatter that its defect-free, two-dimensional makeup can be used in transistors, helping to speed up computer processing. In other words, faster computers, smartphones, smartwatches, smart-whatever-we-come-up-with-next.
In a world obsessed with all things 3D, a 2D piece of glass could take our computing power to the next level.
If you’re a Guinness Book of World Records fan, keep an eye out for the 2014 edition, which will include this “pane” of glass.