Portrait of professor writing on glass
Photo Credit
Tibor Nemeth

Smooth as Glass

Patrick Charbonneau, professor of chemistry and physics, is using complex computer simulations to unlock the hidden secrets of science—in glass.

Why is glass solid? No one knows, despite the fact that people have been making glass for 3,500-plus years.

It’s a mystery, because glass has the molecular structure of a liquid. As Duke’s Patrick Charbonneau, a professor in the chemistry and physics departments, likes to say, a wineglass is virtually indistinguishable from wine if you could look at them at the atomic level. Yet the glass holds its shape while the wine sloshes.

“How is it that something that looks like a liquid becomes solid enough that I can build with it?” asks Charbonneau. “This problem is reasonably simple to formulate, yet so hard to solve.”