Getting the Lead Out of Glass
Glass has been around for more than 5,000 years, but specialty glasses like cell phone covers and optical fibres—truly high-tech materials—are newer. As Canada Research Chair in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Studies of Materials, Dr. Josef Zwanziger seeks to improve these materials and make them environmentally sustainable.
In fine optics, glass performance is only as good as its environment—and some glasses degrade markedly when stressed or heated. For decades, it was understood that the only real solution to this problem was to use a very high lead content in the glass. Lead boosts performance, but at a high environmental price. Fortunately, Zwanziger and his research team have made a remarkably simple discovery that not only explains the lead’s performance, but more importantly, predicts much safer alternatives.
Zwanziger and his team are now making use of this knowledge to better understand fibre optic glass performance. When light is propagated down a fibre, some is inevitably lost, and this loss is a bottleneck to optical communications, such as in computer networks. However, Zwanziger is working to understand how the chemical bonds in glass interact with both light and stress and cause losses that lead to bottlenecks, as well as how to reduce these losses as much as possible.
Glass is a wonderfully useful and ubiquitous material. Zwanziger is dedicated to making it not only better, but safer for the environment as well.