Glasses present a rich field of study both for academia and industry. Large window glass becomes increasingly functional, while novel microfabrication techniques are pushing the limit of their miniaturization. Many open questions remain though, ranging from fundamental glass physics to ways of reducing brittleness for real-world applications. To achieve a more scientifically driven approach to glass design and processing, the industry must build on the physics of atomic rearrangements, defect initiation, and dynamic fracture in response to mechanical loading. The mechanical behaviour of glasses is fundamentally different from crystalline materials due to the lack of grain boundaries, dislocation activities, and slip systems. In stead, the amorphous arrangement tends to deform via alternative mechanisms such as viscous flow, densification and shear bands. It is crucial to study these mechanisms to predict the mechanical performance of glasses, both for real-world applications and fundamental sciences.

    Testing the strength of microscale fused silica. What is the influence of the surface finish on the mechanical properties?

    The strength of glasses has been studied for over 100 years. Yet, ever more complex experiments and computational studies continue to refine our description of this class of materials till today. The intricacy of the topic is well illustrated for example by the 6 (six!) definitions of strength of fused silica.1 Firstly, one has to differentiate extrinsic from intrinsic strength. The extrinsic strength is limited by the extreme sensitivity of glasses to extrinsic microdefects on the surface or in the bulk of glass samples. The intrinsic strength, on the other hand, excludes the presence of such flaws. This is only the case in very small specimens on the micrometer length-scale, such as carefully drawn fibers or micropillars. Secondly, both the extrinsic and the intrinsic strength can be impaired by fatigue, i.e. the delayed failure due to crack nucleation under stress. Fatigue can occur under inert and environmental conditions during slow testing, or it can be absent, as for example during fast testing.

    Factors such as the sample size and fabrication method, the testing environment (humidity, temperature), and the testing speed are therefore not only variables of interest to fundamental science , but are highly relevant for real world applications. The Alemnis Standard Assembly (ASA) is a highly versatile test platform featuring true displacement control and the widest range of environmental control available on the market. Some aspects that make the ASA particularly suitable for testing of brittle glasses are:

    • The ability to precisely control the rate of deformation, irrespective of any yielding, cracking, flow, or other deformation response. 
    • The option for environmental control including relative humidity and temperature from – 150 °C up to 1000 °C
    • The possibility to perform ultra-high strain rate tests.
    • The large load capacity of up to 4 N


    Micromechanical testing in the glass domain covers a wide variety of topics:

    Automated mapping of mechanical properties of large glass sample arrays

    Selected papers where the Alemnis system has been used for investigating glasses:

    High strain rate:

    High temperature:


    Temperature-dependent plasticity of fused silica micropillars

    The Alemnis Standard Assembly (ASA) can also be coupled to correlative analytical techniques including:

    • in situ Raman spectroscopy to probe local rearrangement of bonding during mechanical deformation
    • in situ SEM imaging to correlate the mechanical response with visual observations such as shear bands and crack formation
    • in situ Synchrotron experiments, such as pair distribution analysis (PDF)

    Other hot topics in the field of novel, functional glasses:



    1 Kurkjian, C. R., Gupta, P. K., Brow, R. K. and Lower, N., “The intrinsic strength and fatigue of oxide glasses”, J. Non. Cryst. Solids 316, 114–124 (2003).