This High-Tech Film Cracks in the Weirdest and Prettiest Ways

By Sarah Zhang on at

When glass cracks, the damage is usually 1.) very bad and 2.) haphazardly spread across the surface. But scientists in Paris are studying thin films that crack in predictable patterns, at once beautiful and weird, that could be repurposed to make microscopic devices.

The study recently published in Physical Review Letters looks at delicate silicate films, which are usually used to coat the insides of lasers. Depending the thickness of the material and the triggering force, cracks of all different shapes can appear: a spiral, a series of crescents, long repeating bands, etc. As the film cracks and peels away from the surface underneath, it also appears to change colour in the light.

This High-Tech Film Cracks in the Weirdest and Prettiest Ways

It's pretty, but the cracks could also be functional. The researchers tell New Scientist that this could be a new way to make patterns on a microscopic scale. Devices inside machines that test medical samples, for instance, need tiny channels for moving small amounts of fluid through them. For now, watching the film crack is weirdly hypnotic, perfect for finishing out an already too-long week. [New Scientist]

Images via Marthelot et al/Physical Review Letters