A new record for the world's thinnest sheet of glass has been set, and it comes in at just two atoms thick. The ultra-thin glass, now recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, was an accidental discovery by scientists at Cornell University and Germany’s University of Ulm. As they were working to produce pure graphene, the researchers noticed a formation of "muck," but closer analysis revealed a glass layer composed of silicon and oxygen. In other words, this major discovery was something of a stroke of luck. Scientists suspect that an air leak prompted a reaction between copper foils being used for the graphene work and a quartz furnace.
And despite the glass pane's barely-there size, it's providing scientists with a wealth of new insight on the core structure of glass. Using electron microscopy, they've produced a picture revealing the precise arrangement of atoms in glass, another first according to David A. Muller (whose lab made the discovery). Being afforded this opportunity for close inspection led scientists to another surprise; it turns out that physicist William Houlder Zachariasen came "startlingly" close to mapping out the correct arrangement way back in 1932. As for what implications this two-dimensional glass holds for the real world, experts say it could be one day be used in transistors and ultimately help speed up processing in computers and smartphones. The new glass record will be published in the 2014 edition Guinness book.