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Superstable Glass May Aid Drug Delivery

Photonics.com
Dec 2006
MADISON, Wis., Dec. 8, 2006 -- A new method has been developed for crafting some of the most stable glasses ever formed, materials that are strong and durable like crystal. Its creators hope the superstable glass can one day be used to deliver medicines inside the body.

Using the new technology, described in a study in the Dec. 8 issue of Science, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a novel glass that is stronger and more stable than glass made in traditional ways. Though not suitable to replace everyday products like window panes or eyeglasses, this new glass may allow pharmaceutical companies the opportunity to explore previously unusable drug compounds.UWGlass.jpg
A type of glass created by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison using a new vapor-deposition method is extremely stable. The rainbow of colors in this superstable glass comes from variations in its thickness. (Photos: University of Wisconsin-Madison)
When considered at the molecular level, most solid materials can be described as either crystals or glasses, said lead author and chemistry professor Mark Ediger. The difference lies in the degree of internal organization of their constituent molecules.

"A crystal is like toy soldiers all lined up marching together," Ediger said. "A glass is a teenager's room, with stuff packed in everywhere."

Just as levels of messiness can range from cluttered to chaotic, levels of molecular disorder can vary between different types of glass. Glasses composed of more organized molecules are more stable and durable, while glasses with haphazard molecular assemblies are less stable and may degrade over time.

Conventional glasses are relatively disordered and molecularly unstable because of how they are made. Glass ingredients are melted, then cooled and allowed to harden. As the molten glass cools, Ediger said, "The molecules slow down, then get stuck. The question is, did they get stuck in an organized state or in an unorganized state?"

Normally, a piece of glass is allowed to cool all at once and the inner molecules, unable to move freely, tend to be trapped in disarray. Ediger and his team, in collaboration with researchers in the university's School of Pharmacy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, designed a new technique that gives all the molecules a chance to arrange themselves a little more neatly.

Ediger and his team build glass layer by layer using a method called vapor deposition. Glass is heated to the point of evaporation and allowed to condense on a cold surface, where the vapor forms an ultrathin liquid film. By adding layers to the surface one at a time, each sheet of particles can move into a more organized arrangement before solidifying.

Though the new glasses do not reach the precision of crystals, they are denser and far stronger than traditional glass. "We were just astonished," said Ediger. "These materials were so unusual, it took a whole year to understand what was going on."UWResearchers.jpg
Mark Ediger, Ken Kearns and Steve Swallen, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, developed a new method for creating a stable glass.
Ediger estimates that the more stable glass would take at least 10,000 years to make using conventional technology, because the liquid glass would have be cooled extremely slowly. With the new vapor deposition method, it takes about an hour.

For now, he has no expectations of using the method for large items like window glass. The microscopic scale of the layering technique makes it best suited for thin films and small products. With pharmacy professor Lian Yu, Ediger is working toward possible medical applications for the new stable glass.

Like other solids, pharmaceutical compounds can form crystals or glasses when melted and cooled. But the latest wonder drugs work only if they arrive in the body where they are needed and at the right concentration at the right time. Some potential pharmaceuticals are hindered by being too crystalline -- not dissolving quickly enough, or at all, in the body -- or too glassy, breaking down too quickly or in uncontrollable ways.

By using their method as a general technique to control stability and solubility of molecular glass, Ediger said, it may be possible to develop drug compounds that were previously unusable. They may also be able to use stable glass films to extend the shelf life of existing medical tools like off-the-shelf blood and pregnancy testing kits.

So far, Ediger's team has successfully made stable glass with an anti-inflammatory called indomethacin, a common test drug Ediger refers to as "the fruit fly of the drug industry." Encouraged by their results, the group plans to test more materials in the search for additional applications.

The work was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture. For more information, visit: www.wisc.edu


GLOSSARY
crystal
A solid with a structure that exhibits a basically symmetrical and geometrical arrangement. A crystal may already possess this structure, or it may acquire it through mechanical means. More than 50 chemical substances are important to the optical industry in crystal form. Large single crystals often are used because of their transparency in different spectral regions. However, as some single crystals are very brittle and liable to split under strain, attempts have been made to grind them very...
glass
A noncrystalline, inorganic mixture of various metallic oxides fused by heating with glassifiers such as silica, or boric or phosphoric oxides. Common window or bottle glass is a mixture of soda, lime and sand, melted and cast, rolled or blown to shape. Most glasses are transparent in the visible spectrum and up to about 2.5 µm in the infrared, but some are opaque such as natural obsidian; these are, nevertheless, useful as mirror blanks. Traces of some elements such as cobalt, copper and...
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
thin film
A thin layer of a substance deposited on an insulating base in a vacuum by a microelectronic process. Thin films are most commonly used for antireflection, achromatic beamsplitters, color filters, narrow passband filters, semitransparent mirrors, heat control filters, high reflectivity mirrors, polarizers and reflection filters.
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