Someday your smartphone might be able to help you in a new way when you’re traveling: by telling you whether the water is safe to drink.
Although a water app isn’t close yet, researchers at Corning and elsewhere recently discovered that they could use Gorilla Glass, the toughened glass made by Corning that’s commonly used on smartphone screens, to make extremely sensitive chemical and biological sensors. It could detect, say, traces of sarin gas in the air or specific pathogens in water.
Displays account for about half of Corning Lab’s revenue, with roughly a third of that coming from Gorilla Glass. To expand this market and withstand challenges from other firms, Corning is trying to add capabilities to Gorilla Glass. The sensor application, if added, could secure Corning for another generation of smartphones.
The ability to turn your phone into a biological and chemical sensor is one of the earliest-stage projects in the lab. Researchers at Corning discovered that they could make very high quality waveguides, which confine and direct light, in Gorilla Glass. The researchers were able to make these waveguides very near to the surface, which is essential for sensors. Doing so in ordinary glass would break it. However, in all gratitude to its earlier successful invention, the Gorilla Glass can withstand the waves. This alone is what gives Corning an edge in kickstarting the integration of this technology and help phones get even smarter.
Corning survived more than 160 years of industry exposure and has done so gracefully due to its innovations. One example is the fact that the time when market for fiber optics collapsed, its business selling glass for cathode-ray-tube display TVs also took a steep dive. It was saved by a process it had invented for making the high quality glass needed for the transistors that control pixels in LCD displays, the very display technology that was diminishing its cathode-ray business. A few years later, the company was commissioned by Apple’s Steve Jobs who needed tough glass for the display screen of the first iPhone. Corning just happened to have a technology sitting on the shelf—the toughened glass that came to be called Gorilla Glass.
But this time clearly Corning is not going to wait for someone to call. They are going full throttle into designing the technology that will power the future generations of smart devices.