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The Science of Glass

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the puzzling science of glass which, though hard and brittle, retains aspects of a liquid once cooled into its solid form.

While glass items have been made for at least 5,000 years, scientists are yet to explain, conclusively, what happens when the substance it's made from moves from a molten state to its hard, transparent phase. It is said to be one of the great unsolved problems in physics. While apparently solid, the glass retains certain properties of a liquid. At times, ways of making glass have been highly confidential; in Venice in the Middle Ages, disclosure of manufacturing techniques was a capital offence. Despite the complexity and mystery of the science of glass, glass technology has continued to advance from sheet glass to crystal glass, optical glass and prisms, to float glasses, chemical glassware, fibre optics and metal glasses.


Dame Athene Donald
Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge and Master of Churchill College, Cambridge

Jim Bennett
Former Director of the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford and Keeper Emeritus at the Science Museum

Paul McMillan
Professor of Chemistry at University College London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

46 minutes

Last on

Thu 28 May 2015 21:30


Dame Athene Donald at the University of Cambridge

Jim Bennett at the University of Oxford

Paul McMillan at University College London

Glass - Encyclopaedia Britannica

Newton and the colour of light

Newton and the Color Spectrum

Roman black glass by Peter Cosyns

Glass - Wikipedia



Robert H. Doremus, Glass Science (first published 1973; Wiley-Interscience, 1994)

R. W. Douglas and Susan Frank, A History of Glassmaking (G T Foulis & Co Ltd, 1972)

J. E. Gordon, New Science of Strong Materials: Or Why You Don't Fall Through the Floor (Pitman Publishing, 1979)

George W. Morey, The Properties of Glass (Reinhold Publishing Corp, 1954)

Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin, The Glass Bathyscaphe: How Glass Changed the World (Profile Books, 2002)

F. J. Terence Maloney, Glass in the Modern World (Aldus Books, 1967)

P. W. McMillan, Glass-Ceramics (Non-Metallic Solids: Volume 1) (Academic Press Inc, 1979)

Mark Miodownik, Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World (Penguin, 2014)

H. Rawson, Inorganic Glass-Forming Systems (Academic Press, 1967)

Stephen L. Sass, The Substance of Civilization: Materials and Human History from the Stone Age to the Age of Silicon (Arcade Publishing, 1998



Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Athene Donald
Interviewed Guest Jim Bennett
Interviewed Guest Paul McMillan
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 28 May 2015 09:00
  • Thu 28 May 2015 21:30

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