I recently watched Star Trek IV, the one with the whales, and was snickering when Scotty built a whale tank out of transparent aluminum.
It was stronger than steel, completely sheer, and had to hold a ton of material, much like a Victoria’s Secret push-up bra.
But it’s just Science Fiction right?
Nope. It’s available now.
OK, it’s not truly transparent aluminum, it’s an aluminum-based ceramic called aluminum oxynitride, or AlON for short.
When prepared properly, AlON becomes translucent.
To make this transparent alumina as it’s called, AlON powder is placed into a rubber mold and lowered into a compression chamber. It is then subjected to a bone-crushing pressure of 15,000 psi (much the same way as the Wicked Witch met her demise in The Wizard of Oz, but with less blood loss and screaming).
The resulting green glob is then removed from the mold, seasoned to taste, and cooked in an oven at 3600 °F for three days. The emerging object is cloudy, but solid. It is then polished and eventually becomes clear.
The compression and cooking not only makes the glob solid and clear, but also incredibly strong. A plate of AlON 1.6 inches thick can stop a .50 bullet, while bullet-proof glass requires a 4.1 inch thickness to perform equally as well.
It’s still an expensive process, but one day we can look forward to transparent skyscrapers, safer car windshields, and very confused birds.
This miracle material may even become the primary building block in the upcoming refurbishment of the Playboy corporate jet.
Wonder Woman indeed.