Importance of Glass

Glass is one of the most useful materials in the world. Few manufactured substances add as much to modern living as does glass. Yet few products are made of such inexpensive raw materials. Glass is made chiefly from silica sand (silica, also called silicon dioxide), soda ash (sodium carbonate), and limestone (calcium carbonate).

Glass has countless uses. Food is preserved in glass jars. People drink from glass containers called glasses. Windows in homes, schools, and office buildings are glass. Motor vehicles have glass windshields and windows. People with vision problems wear eyeglasses. Scientists use glass test tubes, and microscopes and telescopes with glass lenses. Glass optical fibers carry data all over the world at the speed of light over the Internet, the worldwide network of computers.

Glass can take many different forms. It can be spun finer than a spider web. Or it can be molded into a disk for a telescope lens or mirror weighing many tons. Glass can be stronger than steel, or more fragile than paper. Most glass is transparent, but glass can also be colored to any desired shade.

Most countries of the world have glass industries. For many years, Germany was the major world source for optical glass, laboratory glassware, and glass Christmas tree ornaments. Today, glass manufacturers in many countries produce such objects on a large scale. Beautiful art glassware is made in many countries, including the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, and Sweden.

Major glass companies spend millions of dollars each year on research to discover ways to make better glass and to develop new uses for glass. Many of the revolutionary developments in glass during the 1900's have come from the laboratories of glass manufacturers.

 Steve W. Martin, Ph.D., Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Iowa State University.

Steve W. Martin, "Glass," Discovery Channel School, original content provided by World Book Online,
, August 2001.

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