Transparent Aluminum Getting Still Closer To Becoming A Thing

Thirty years ago Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home premiered to some success and acclaim.  A minor plot point involved the (or perhaps it was just one of many) formula for transparent aluminum.  While it was not ready in the actual 1986, various compounds involving aluminum have emerged that try to be as strong and as transparent as the material shown in the film.  There are aluminosilicate glasses like Gorilla Glass, and a kind of ceramic armor based on an aluminum compound.  With a version of Gorilla Glass being used for automotive glass things are getting close to the storm panels and water tanks using it in the film.

The latest development in transparent aluminum is a variant on the ceramic armor mentioned above.  The Naval Research Laboratory has made advancements in ceramics manufacturing that allows for spinel (magnesium aluminate) that is thinner and stronger than glass (H/T Science Rocks My World).  The Navy is looking at applications for military vehicles and imaging systems in hostile environments (the spinel allows infrared light to pass through it as well as visible light).

Star Trek, like a lot of science fiction, manages to predict future technology.  It may not get the exact form right, or know exactly when the new technology will become available.  But I’m comfortable placing transparent aluminum in the same category as the communicator from the original series (which is essentially a souped-up flip phone).  Imagined future technology today.


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