Scientists Discover New State of Matter in “Liquid Glass”

unique properties occur between solid and liquid states of glass, physicists say

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Physicists have identified a new state of matter called liquid glass, Science Alert reported. It lies somewhere between a solid and a colloid, which is like a gel. Understanding it means taking a look back on states of matter.

Atoms illustration
In addition to the three states of matter that are taught in our earliest years in school—solid, liquid, gas—there is a fourth state of matter called plasma, which occurs when gas is subjected to extremely high temperatures. Photo By Anusorn Nakdee

According to Science Alert, scientists studying glass recently made an incredible discovery. “Physicists have identified a new state of matter, hidden inside the mysterious transformations that take place between liquid and solid states of glass,” the article said. “The glass transition holds a lot of fascination for scientists, and the new state of matter—called ‘liquid glass’—exhibits behavior at the microscopic level that hasn’t been seen before, marking it as separate from previously observed phenomena.

“This new state seems to exist between a solid and a colloid (such as a gel): homogenous mixtures with particles that are microscopic but still bigger than atoms and molecules, and easier to study.”

Although states of matter are taught in school, there’s far more to them than meets the eye.

Solids and Liquids

Solid, liquid, gas, and plasma make up the four established states of matter.

“Solids […] have a more or less fixed shape as a consequence of a three-dimensional arrangement of relatively strong and rigid bonds,” said Dr. Robert M. Hazen, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. “There are three different classes of common solids in everyday use, and these are crystals, glass, and polymers. These three different types depend on the regularity of the bonding of these atoms.”

Liquids, meanwhile, are collections of atoms or molecules that retain their volume but change their shape. Dr. Hazen said that at the molecular level, liquids behave like a bag of flour, in that there are forces that hold them together, but the forces are very weak. This enables the molecules to move around one another. There are two forces at work with liquids: van der Walls attractions and hydrogen bonding.

“These cause the molecules, the atoms of liquid, to be attracted to each other so they don’t go flying off into space, but not so strong that they form a rigid crystal or a solid,” he said.

Gases and Plasmas

Gas is the third state of matter. Dr. Hazen said that gas is nothing more than a collection of atoms or molecules that expands to fill whatever volume is available. Gases have no fixed volume or shape.

“If you could magnify a gas a billion times, what you’d see was the individual particles flying around all over, sort of like the ping-pong balls in the state lottery game,” he said.

Plasmas are the result of gas being subjected to extremely high temperatures. Dr. Hazen said that as gases reach higher temperatures, they fly around faster and eventually their collisions cause their electrons to be stripped off. This makes them charged particles along with a sea of charged electrons.

“Positively charged atoms and molecules, negatively charged electrons forming a sea—plasma has many properties like metallic bonding. Only in this case it’s sort of a gaseous state of metal.”

As scientists continue to observe liquid glass, it may indeed become as established a state of matter as its cousins.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Robert M. Hazen contributed to this article. Dr. Hazen is Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, and a research scientist at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Professor Hazen earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned a PhD in Earth Science from Harvard University and did post-doctoral work at Cambridge University in England before joining the Carnegie Institution.