Making a balloon out of glass might not seem like such a great idea on the surface – but Hank Rawlins, a graduate student in metallurgical engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla, thinks glass balloons might turn out to be the best way to put monitoring equipment in the upper atmosphere.
Rawlins, from Farmington, Mo., recently took third place in the 2007 Strength in Glass Contest, a year-long challenge for university students interested in identifying marketable new products, engineering opportunities and cost savings that would be possible “if glass of any type were available at 50 times its current strength.”
Rawlins received $5,000 for his proposal of “Eversphere Glass Balloons.” The concept involves high-strength, thin-walled vacuum glass balloons. The balloons would have a greater lifting force than helium or hydrogen balloons and would allow scientists to permanently place monitoring equipment in the upper atmosphere.
Armin Dellert, a student at Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, placed first in the contest. Dellert’s paper envisioned solar cells on a flexible thin glass substrate that could be rolled up into spools and spread out when needed. Dellert was awarded $20,000 during the International Congress on Glass, which was held in July in Strasbourg, France.
Julieann Heffernan of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology placed second and received $10,000. Heffernan proposed a glass panel roofing system that would support heavy loads of snow and withstand the impact of large hailstones.
The competition was sponsored by the Glass Manufacturing Industry Council (GMIC), the glass and optical materials division of the American Ceramic Society, the International Commission on Glass, the Center for Glass Research and the National Science Foundation’s International Materials Institute on New Functionalities in Glasses.
“The industry now has a clear look at some of the amazing products that will be possible when the barriers to stronger glass are overcome and the target strengths are achieved,” says Michael Greenman, executive director of GMIC. “The next step of this process will be the creation and announcement of an X-Prize in Glass.”
The X-Prize in Glass would be similar to the $10,000,000 Ansari Prize, which was offered in 2005 to encourage privately funded space flight.
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