That itch to explain the world around us is just human nature. And even when we solve one question, a few more pop up.
While scientific discovery will always be the product of close observation and testing, researchers today have incredibly sophisticated tools at their fingertips. They’re answering questions through advanced underground laboratories, massive telescopes, and 192-beam lasers, each of which is aided by a crucial piece of glass.
In fact, from test tubes to sight glasses, glass plays a significant role in research and scientific advancement. Here are five examples of glass playing a critical role in scientific discoveries that help shape our understanding of some of the largest forces on Earth and in the universe.
What Newton wanted to know: Isaac Newton was so fascinated yet perplexed by light, he spent years studying it. Otto Schott, Carl Zeiss, and Ernst Abbe (the grandfathers of SCHOTT) owe a lot to Newton’s famous work Opticks, but the trio pushed the field forward by refining optical glass.
Zeiss ran an optical and precision machining workshop, and his silent partner, Abbe, was a trained physicist working on the theoretical principles of optical imaging. But Zeiss needed a better quality glass for his microscopes and lenses, so he turned to Schott, an expert in glass melting and the chemistry of glass.
Buoyed by Abbe’s physics principles, Schott developed specialized glass for Zeiss’s microscopes, and these glass lenses gave the world a better understanding of the refractive and dispersion properties of light. Scientists got a better look at the world around us, and similar lenses are still being used in microscopes so we can see at the molecular level, and in telescopes to gaze up at celestial bodies.
Just what are neutrinos? Neutrinos are funny little particles – they spin and hold no electrical charge, but have mass and can change their type as they travel from the Sun to the Earth. That’s what Japanese researcher Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald, from Canada, discovered at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), which earned them a Nobel Prize in 2015.
The SNO is buried two kilometers beneath Canadian soil, where this 10-story telescope uses photomultipliers to detect individual neutrinos. As the particles pass through a 12-foot-diameter sphere filled with about 1,000 tons of high-purity heavy water, they produce individual photons. The telescope’s 12,000 sensors detect the photons, amplify them, and measure their energy.
Surrounding each photomultiplier is a SCHOTT-made glass bulb with special optical and chemical properties that permits ultraviolet radiation from the photons to pass through without damaging or degrading the light. This quality gave Kajita and McDonald better data on neutrinos, which isn’t easy to come by. Their findings explain why previous research couldn’t account for all neutrinos that physics models predicted, and added to the standard model of particle physics.