Transparent Aluminum!

Scientists in the US have developed a novel technique to make bulk quantities of glass from alumina for the first time. Anatoly Rosenflanz and colleagues at 3M in Minnesota used a “flame-spray” technique to alloy alumina (aluminium oxide) with rare-earth metal oxides to produce strong glass with good optical properties. The method avoids many of the problems encountered in conventional glass forming and could, say the team, be extended to other oxides (A Rosenflanz et al. 2004 Nature 430 761).
Glass is formed when a molten material is cooled so quickly that its constituent atoms do not have time to align themselves into an ordered lattice. However, it is difficult to make glasses from most materials because they need to be cooled — or quenched — at rates of up to 10 million degrees per second.
Silica is widely used in glass-making because the quenching rates are much lower, but researchers would like to make glass from alumina as well because of its superior mechanical and optical properties. Alumina can form glass if it is alloyed with calcium or rare-earth oxides, but the required quenching rate can be as high as 1000 degrees per second, which makes it difficult to produce bulk quantities.