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Micro tools that carve glass

MATERIALS - Cutting Edge

SCIENTISTS at universities across the United States are developing tools that will cut patterns in glass and ceramics without breaking the material into tiny chunks.

Normally brittle materials such as glass break away in blocks or fracture completely when machined, a process that is difficult to control.

But now researchers at Penn State University, the University of Kentucky and George Washington University have developed tiny tools that can machine glass microscopically.

Penn State associate professor of mechanical engineering Dr Eric R Marsh said: 'The tools are small enough so that the brittle material behaves like a malleable material such as aluminium, producing smooth curly chips of glass or ceramic.'

Researchers at the University of Kentucky and George Washington University created the miniature drills and end mills using electronically charged atoms to blast away the surface layers of a diamond.

The tools rotate quickly to remove microscopic amounts of glass or ceramic, although the carving process itself is slow because of the size of the tools.