There’s a famous scene in Star Trek IV (The Voyage Home) where the crew need to build a light, strong aquarium aboard their ship to transport a pair of Humpback whales to the future. As the technology doesn’t yet exist in the 1980s, Scotty trades his knowledge of Transparent Aluminum in exchange for the manufacturer giving them a free supply.
For years, that’s as far as the story of Tranparent Aluminum went. However, since 2002 this fantasy substance has actually been in development, and is now actually available.
What is it really?
Transparent Aluminum is as good a name as any, especially since that name is already somewhat familiar to the public (at least in the science fiction community). It’s actually a ceramic of Aluminum Oxynitrate, which has been called AlON (for those bothered by spelling of ‘aluminum’, I’m using the version that the company uses). It has been developed by a company called Surmet that specializes in advanced materials.
In case you’re wondering whtether you could make it at home, the answer is most likely ‘no’. AlON is created when a powder of aluminum oxynitrate crystals is compressed under very high temperature and pressure, then cooled and polished to create a very durable, light, transparent product. It’s lighter than Titanium and stronger than current transparent armour options. In the right laminate, AlON can stop multiple armour-piercing bullets (30 and 50 calibre).
So We Can Buy Transparent Aluminum for Our Home Windows?
Sadly, AlON is currently very expensive. Because of this, it was developed with the financial support of the American Department of Defense and it’s current uses and availability are largely military. These include transparent armour for air and ground vehicles, and more durable windows for sensor and reconnaissance pods. With luck, however, and as the technology becomes more common place, the manufacturing costs should decrease and we could see it enter common use.
The Future of AlON?
In addition to bullet proof windows for homes and cars, some popular uses could be in scratch-resistance phone, tablet, and computer screens. Not to mention that it’s great strength could make for some interesting furniture, unbreakable toys, etc.
Just an idea from my own brain-pan, but AlON could be the starting point for the next level of space vessel shielding. When AlON is hit with a strong projectile, it fractures, but doesn’t break. Imagine if an electrical process could be found to restructure the material so it could be automatically repaired while in the field. That would mean strong, self-repairing, armour. Furthermore, I suspect it could be made even stronger if the Aluminum Oxynitrate crystals could be formed on a nanometre scale with a high level of uniformity.
But there I go again, taking something that’s just come from the realm of science fiction, and bring it back for another round before it’s even had a chance to grow.
So, what do you think of this amazing new material? How would you like to see it used?