I read this report and summarise here but my question is - if quantum mechanics will make glass melt at temperatures near absolute zero and it is near absolute zero then wouldn't this be a huge issue for satellites and space shuttles?


Scientists Use Quantum Mechanics to Show That Glass Will Melt Near Absolute Zero ScienceDaily (Feb. 4, 2011)

Prof. Eran Rabani of Tel Aviv University's School of Chemistry and his colleagues at Columbia University have discovered a new quantum mechanical effect with glass-forming liquids. They've determined that it's possible to melt glass -- not by heating it, but by cooling it to a temperature near absolute zero. This new basic science research, to be published in Nature Physics, has limited practical application so far, says Prof. Rabani. But knowing why materials behave as they do paves the way for breakthroughs of the future. "The interesting story here," says Prof. Rabani, "is that by quantum effect, we can melt glass by cooling it. Normally, we melt glasses with heat."

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    $\begingroup$ Experimental physicists would have noticed if glass melted at 3 degrees K, and because of the cosmic microwave background radiation, satellites won't get any nearer absolute zero than this. $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2011 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ What is the connection to that link to SDO (NASA)? $\endgroup$
    – Georg
    Feb 7, 2011 at 14:22

2 Answers 2


The wider question here is about Glass formation and its properties which have been described as one of the main open questions in condensed matter physics. There is even a Paradox connected with current theories to explain glass formation temperatures.

One point to note is the definition of "glass" in all this. Our familiar example is the $SiO_2$ glass, but in the condensed physics context it means anything which enters the "glass regime" in the Temperature phase diagrams. The example which seems to be closer to this paper is "Polymer Glass".

In the Papers identified by Carl Brannen, there was a mathematical model and computer simulation of a Quantum Theory which extended an existing classical theory of Glass formation. This showed that at the low Temperature quantum level there would indeed be a second "liquid" state forming. The classical model just had particles becoming more mobile at higher T, but at the quantum level the rise in wavelength allowed a second route to mobility.

In terms of practical applications it depends how general this model is, and what substances are "glassy" - rather than solid - at these low temperatures to begin with.

In terms of spacecraft, NASA has had a problem with the glass-solid boundary (in a polymer glass) at low temperatures before: this was the O-ring problem which caused the Challenger disaster.

  • $\begingroup$ In terms of melting, organic (polymer) glasses are somewhat easier to (melt) but in general the bonds to disrupt are absolutely outside the theories in the paper. Please read the paper, they deal about glasslike magnetic states and so on! $\endgroup$
    – Georg
    Feb 10, 2011 at 13:48

A preprint has appeared for this:

Accepted for publication in Nature Physics., Thomas E. Markland, Joseph A. Morrone, B. J. Berne, Kunimasa Miyazaki, Eran Rabani, David R. Reichman, Quantum fluctuations can promote or inhibit glass formation

While the article does apply to glasses in general, it is not a danger to our spacecraft because their temperatures are nowhere near absolute zero. In fact, even intergalactic space is quite warm, compared to absolute zero, because of the cosmic microwave background radiation (which has a temperature of about 2.7 degrees Kelvin).


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