From packaging to computer screens to windows and more, glass is a key part of everyday life, and it has been so for millennia. Made of an exceedingly common element, glass is inexpensive to produce and quite versatile in its application. It is one of those products that is so prevalent that we hardly ever notice how common it is and how important glass is to every sector of society. As is well known, glass also occupies an important place in the art community and is an important part of the heritage of many world cultures.

How Glass Is Made

Glass is made from silicon, which is the second most common element in Earth's crust. Actually, silicon is not found in its pure elemental form in nature but rather in various chemical compounds, the most common of which is silicon dioxide, also known as silica. Most people are familiar with silica because it is one of the primary materials found in sand. Glass is formed by heating silica to a molten state and then cooling it. Most glass also includes sodium carbonate, with the result being that most finished glass will wear down over long periods of time when exposed to the various natural elements, especially water. The art of glass-blowing shapes molten glass into various forms that either have practical uses or are works of art in their own right. Air is blown into the molten glass to form cups, bowls, plates, sculptures, and much more.

Colored Glass

Clear glass is perhaps the most common type of glass that is used, particularly in window applications. However, human beings have also been using glass of various other colors from time immemorial. Adding other elements to silica while it is being melted and cooled will produce glass in different colors. For example, adding iron to the silica will produce green glass, and adding copper will result in blue glass. Like clear glass, colored glass is also used in many applications, including packaging and décor. However, it is almost certainly the case that many people think immediately of stained glass windows when they think about colored glass. Medieval churches and cathedrals in particular feature large windows made from various pieces of colored glass arranged to create a picture or symbols. Even today, people are making stained-glass window treatments to adorn churches and even residential buildings.

Other Types of Glass

Glass has many practical applications, and specific types of glass have been created to fulfill particular purposes. Annealed glass is the basic type of glass and is useful in its own right, being used in products including packaging for food, drinking glasses, and windows. But annealed glass can also be treated in different ways to make it more suitable for other purposes. When annealed glass is tempered properly, the result is something that is often called toughened glass, which is more resistant to breakage than annealed glass. Toughened glass is found in such places as car windshields, the facades of buildings, and other places where stronger, more shatter-resistant glass is necessary. Other familiar types of glass include coated glass, which is treated with vapors and other chemicals to make the glass scratch-resistant and more durable for long-term use, and patterned glass. Patterned glass can be used for décor or for the creation of fine crystal glasses and pitchers. In its purest form, glass can also be used to create optical fibers that make communication faster around the world. One final type of glass worth mentioning is extra-clear glass, which is not made from annealed glass but is rather a different kind of glass entirely. Extra-clear glass is prized for use in such things as photovoltaic cells that can turn sunlight into electricity.

So Basic and So Necessary

Given the long history of glass use, human beings will not likely abandon this material now or ever. The practical and artistic uses for this glass are nearly endless, and glass is increasingly being used for computer applications in a variety of settings. Whether it is colored or clear, glass is not just something pretty to look at. It is a vital part of the human economy and the overall human experience.

Article written by Lexi Westingate
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