A new type of glass is in town; “Spinel” a new type of material that the US Navel Research Laboratory has been working on for the last 10 years has been revealed.
Spinel is said to be a far more durable material and that a thin layer of it could perform better than glass.
"Spinel is actually a mineral, it's magnesium aluminate," says Dr. Jas Sanghera, who leads the research.
"The advantage is it's so much tougher, stronger, harder than glass. It provides better protection in more hostile environments—so it can withstand sand and rain erosion."
"For weight-sensitive platforms-UAVs [unmanned autonomous vehicles], head-mounted face shields—it's a game-changing technology." He continued.
The new material was made using a hot press called sintering, which is a low temperature process, with multiple sizes to soon be available.
"Ultimately, we're going to hand it over to industry," says Sanghera, "so it has to be a scalable process."
In the initial lab tests they made pieces that were eight inches in diamter, and then after they licensing the technology to a company, they were able to create plates up to 30 inches wide.
The method allows the scientists to make optics in a number of shapes.
In addition to being tougher, stronger, harder, Sanghera says spinel has "unique optical properties; not only can you see through it, but it allows infrared light to go through it." That means the military, for imaging systems, "can use spinel as the window because it allows the infrared light to come through."
The scientists are also looking at spinel for the windows on lasers operating in maritime and other hostile environments.
"I've got to worry about wave slap and saltwater and things like that, and gun blasts going off—it's got to be resistant to all that. And so that's where spinel comes into its own," says Sanghera.
"Everything we do, we're trying to push the mission. It's designed to either enable a new application, a new capability—or enhance an existing one." He continued.
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