Scientists shatter world record: Thinnest ever sheet of glass created at just ONE molecule thick

Scientists shatter world record: Thinnest ever sheet of glass created at just ONE molecule thick – and all because of an accidental discovery

  • David Muller made the finding after noticing some ‘muck’ on graphene
  • The glass is so thin that its atoms are clearly visible under a microscope
  • Their arrangement is exactly like the cartoons proposed 81 years ago on how atoms in glass might look


An accidental discovery has led to the creation of the world’s thinnest sheet of glass – at just one molecule thick.

The ‘pane’ of glass is so impossibly thin that its individual silicon and oxygen atoms are clearly visible using a microscope.

The discovery may someday lead to a defect-free, ultra-thin material that could improve the performance of processors in computers and smartphones.

The glass was identified by chance in the lab of David Muller, professor of applied and engineering physics at Cornell University. 

Professor Muller had been making graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms, in a chicken wire crystal formation.

He noticed some ‘muck’ on the graphene, and when he took a closer look, found it to be made up of the elements of everyday glass; silicon and oxygen.

‘When the first images came up on the computer screen we were just blown away,’ he told MailOnline.

A picture of the atoms in the glass taken with our electron microscope, which is one of the most powerful in the world. The brightest dots are silicon

‘The mystery atoms were the elements of everyday glass, silicon and oxygen.

‘But more amazing, their arrangement looked exactly like the cartoons proposed 81 years ago as to how atoms in a glass might be arranged so that it would be stable. 

‘And here, for the first time, we were actually seeing that.’

It took the research team another year to understand how the glass might have grown.  

They concluded that an air leak had caused the copper to react with the quartz, also made of silicon and oxygen. 

This produced the glass layer on the would-be pure graphene.

The work answers an 81-year-old question about the structure of glass.

The image shows the atoms in the glass overlayed by a cartoon based on the model proposed in 1932 by William Houlder Zachariasen. The red dots are oxygen and the yellow dots are silicon atoms

Scientists, with no way to directly see it, had struggled to understand it: it behaves like a solid, but was thought to look more like a liquid.

But what Cornell University found strikingly resembles a diagram drawn in 1932 by William Zachariasen – a longstanding theoretical representation of the arrangement of atoms in glass.  

‘This is the work that, when I look back at my career, I will be most proud of,’ said Muller.

‘It’s the first time that anyone has been able to see the arrangement of atoms in a glass.’

The discovery was made as part of a collaboration between Cornell University and the University of Ulm, and is now recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.

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