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Self-Repairing Wonder: Tel Aviv University Develops Transparent, Adhesive Glass

This innovation, detailed in a recent publication in the esteemed scientific journal Nature, opens doors for applications in optics, satellite communication, biomedicine, and more.

A groundbreaking discovery by researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) has the potential to revolutionize various industries with the creation of a unique glass material. This novel glass is not only transparent but also possesses self-repairing and adhesive properties, forming spontaneously at room temperature when exposed to water. This innovation, detailed in a recent publication in the esteemed scientific journal Nature, opens doors for applications in optics, satellite communication, biomedicine, and more.

The research team, led by PhD student Gal Finkelstein-Zuta and Prof. Ehud Gazit from TAU’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, harnessed the power of bioconvergence – a field that leverages biological principles to design new materials. Their focus was on peptides, the building blocks of proteins. Peptides typically self-assemble into well-defined, ordered structures. However, the researchers stumbled upon a unique peptide that defied expectations by forming an amorphous, disordered structure – a defining characteristic of glass.

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Glass, on a molecular level, behaves like a liquid lacking a structured arrangement. Yet, it exhibits solid-like mechanical properties. Traditional glass manufacturing involves rapidly cooling molten materials, essentially “freezing” them in a state that prevents crystallization. This process creates an amorphous state, granting glass its unique optical, chemical, and mechanical properties, along with its renowned durability, versatility, and sustainability.

The Tel Aviv University team’s breakthrough lies in their discovery of an aromatic peptide with a three-tyrosine sequence (YYY). This peptide spontaneously forms molecular glass when an aqueous solution containing it evaporates at room temperature.

“The conventional glass we’re familiar with is produced through vitrification, the rapid cooling of molten materials,” explains Gal Finkelstein-Zuta. “This keeps the amorphous, liquid-like structure from rearranging into a more stable crystalline form, which requires energy – high temperatures followed by rapid cooling. Conversely, the glass we’ve developed, comprised of biological building blocks, self-assembles at room temperature without the need for extreme heat or pressure. It’s as simple as dissolving a powder in water, similar to making Kool-Aid, and the glass forms. We even created lenses using this method. Instead of a lengthy grinding and polishing process, we simply deposited a drop onto a surface, controlling its curvature and therefore its focal point by manipulating the solution volume alone.”

This innovative glass boasts a unique combination of properties that seem almost contradictory. It’s incredibly strong yet remarkably self-repairing at room temperature. Additionally, it functions as a powerful adhesive while maintaining high transparency across a wide spectral range, encompassing visible light and extending into the mid-infrared region.

“This is the first time anyone has successfully created molecular glass under such simple conditions,” emphasizes Prof. Gazit. “However, the properties of this glass are equally significant. It’s truly special. It exhibits remarkable strength yet exceptional transparency – far exceeding that of normal glass. While regular silicate glass allows visible light to pass through, our molecular glass offers transparency deep into the infrared spectrum. This opens doors for applications in satellite technology, remote sensing, communication systems, and optics. It’s also a strong adhesive, capable of bonding different glasses and even repairing cracks within itself. This combination of properties is unparalleled in any glass currently existing, and it all stems from a single peptide – a tiny building block of protein.”

The implications of this discovery are vast. In the field of optics, this self-repairing glass could eliminate the need for frequent replacements of lenses and other delicate optical components. Its transparency across a wider spectrum opens doors for the development of advanced sensors and communication technologies. The self-healing property makes it ideal for harsh environments like space, where repairs are often impractical. Additionally, the adhesive nature of the glass simplifies assembly processes and offers potential applications in microfluidics and bioengineering.

The researchers are currently exploring further refinements and potential applications of this revolutionary glass material. With continued investigation, this self-repairing, transparent, and adhesive glass developed by Tel Aviv University has the potential to reshape various industries and introduce a new era of material science.



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