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The future is now: Transparent aluminum on your phone

By Adam Doud November 28, 2015, 12:30 pm

Ever found yourself kicking back, surfing the net and just chillin’ – not Netflix and chillin’ – but actually chillin’ and suddenly you find your brains on the floor. Not literally of course, but you come across something that blows your mind and you start to see a lot of implications and possibilities? Well that’s just how I felt when I first came across transparent aluminum.

That Star Trek stuff? Yep. That Star Trek stuff. For those of you not familiar with the reference, I’ve included a clip below. Our intrepid crew of the NCC-1701 had just had their ship blown up and they’d flown back in time to the 1980’s. They found themselves in the whale shipping business and they needed a way to carry two of them pronto. They offered a local plexiglass manufacturer the formula for transparent aluminum in exchange for six inches of their finest.

You so crazy

Transparent metal. Crazy right? Clearly, this is 23rd century stuff we’re talking about. It may even be 24th or 25th century stuff if you factor in how wrong Hollywood was about flying cars and hoverboards. But sure enough, transparent aluminum exists today. But that’s not the mind-blowing part. Three different types of transparent aluminum exist today. Not only do we have the impossible. We have three different flavors of it. But that’s still not the mind-blowing part. The mind-blowing part is that we at Pocketnow have used and tested a transparent aluminum screen on video. I’m not even kidding.

Now, before we get too crazy, this is not a transparent metal. So let’s go ahead and put that out of our heads, no matter how disappointing that may be. Technically what we’re dealing with here is a transparent ceramic. Transparent aluminum is a crystalline substance made of aluminate powder alloys. The basic concept of transparent aluminum is that these powders are highly compressed and heated to extreme temperatures. After some time, the material is then cooled and polished and shaped into its desired form. The resulting compound is crystal clear and in some cases, capable of stopping a 50-caliber bullet. For those of you not familiar with the 50-caliber bullet, let’s just say that they’re about the size of your finger and can take out a lightly armored vehicle from somewhere around 17 football fields away.

It’s here, today

“But didn’t you say that Pocketnow had already tested this stuff?!?” Yes, I did. Remember when I mentioned that there are three different varieties of this stuff? Those three varieties are:
Aluminum oxynitride also known as AlON
Magnesium aluminate spinel also known as Spinel
Single crystal aluminum oxide also known as…wait for it…sapphire

Now, before you run off to Google to find out if I’m talking about ~that~ sapphire, let me assure you that yes, I am talking about that sapphire. Technically, sapphire glass as we know it today is made up of aluminum. And it’s transparent. And we have tested it in the Kyocera Brigadier last year.

Bulletproof phones

sapphire-screens-780px

You see, we’re living in a world, where we are taking materials that make up metals and turning them clear and putting them on our phones. We are using literally bulletproof material on our freakin’ phones. Just stop and consider that for a second. And please, put down the Glock – no testing please. It won’t work.

But all the same, this is another example of Star Trek tech becoming a reality before our eyes. Of course, we’re no closer to warp speeds, or walking to a wall and asking for a chocolate sundae, but still just a little more Star Trek tech is gracing our phones which, in this editor’s opinion is a pretty cool thing. In the future – and I mean near-future – as costs come down, we will see more phones adopting sapphire, or spinel, or even something new that will make our phones that much more durable and long lasting.

So what do you think? Were you intrigued by this journey down into the science of the glass through which, chances are, you are reading this article? Do you feel emboldened by the advances we have made thanks to Dr. McCoy and Scotty and a couple of humpbacks? Or are you let down that this isn’t actually made of metal and it still isn’t on the iPhone? Go ahead and chime in in the comments down below. I’ve cited some sources for further reading, should you be interested.

How Stuff Works – ScienceHow Transparent Aluminum Armor Works by Tom Scheve –

UberGizmoTransparent Aluminum Now A Reality by Edwin Kee

WikipediaTransparent Ceramics – by the Internet

MIT Technology ReviewYour Next Smartphone Screen May Be Made of Sapphire by Kevin Bullis

Naval Research LaboratoryTransparent Armor from NRL; Spinel Could Also Ruggedize Your Smart Phone –  by Kyra Wiens

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