t Corning’s headquarters in upstate New
York, three people in bulky masks and silvery, spacesuit-like gear are working the
research furnaces. They move gracefully
and in harmony. They have to, to face a
1,600 °C furnace, grab an incandescent
crucible of molten glass, pour out the material, and shape it before it hardens. One
worker’s glove begins to smoke; he seems
to pay it no mind.
“They’re doing a ballet,” says Adam
Ellison, a materials scientist at the company, watching the furnace workers as the
glass dumps brimstone-like heat into the
surrounding air. “It’s hot as hell, the glass
gets stiff very quickly, and you can only
work with it for a few minutes,” he says.
Ellison would know—he helped develop
the material they’re pouring, which is
branded Gorilla Glass and is found on
many smartphones because it is tough,
thin, and lightweight.
These researchers are helping Corning
investigate just how much further it can
push the properties of glass. If the company could make glass that is difficult to
scratch and break but also bendy, it could