Materials in Today's World

Why is Glass Transparent?


Glass is one of the noncrystalline (amorphous) forms of quartz (SiO2). Quartz is crystalline SiO2 (structure shown in figure (a) below), while fused silica is SiO2 which is amorphous SiO2 without impurities ( the structure is shown in figure (b) below).

Crystalline forms hexagonal structure. Non-crystalline is random
Crystalline and non-crystalline silicon dioxide.
Credit: Callister

In practice, impurities (such as sodium shown in the figure below) are added to the glass to lower the melting temperature and the viscosity of the glass to make it easier to work the glass at lower temperatures.

Soda Glass diagram from two pages ago
The addition of sodium (Na) disrupts the normal bonding structure of silicon dioxide.
Adapted from Fig. 3.41, Callister & Rethwisch 5e.

Glass's amorphous structure breaks up the band structure of SiO2 such that there are no electronic states that electrons can jump to by absorbing visible light in glass. Here is a TED-Ed video by Mark Miodownik (the host of the Secret Life of Materials videos) to explain this in more detail. In the next sections, we are going to discuss why glass is brittle and how glass is being engineered not to be so brittle.

Watch Now

Please watch the following short TED Ed video, Why is Glass Transparent?, before proceeding to the next section on the Glass Age.