Studies suggest that technologically valuable ultrastable glasses can be produced in days or hours with properties corresponding to those that have been aged for thousands of years.
Aging makes for higher quality glassy materials because they have slowly evolved toward a more stable molecular condition.
This evolution can take thousands or millions of years, but manufacturers must work faster.
Armed with a better understanding of how glasses age and evolve, researchers at the universities of Chicago and Wisconsin-Madison raise the possibility of designing a new class of materials at the molecular level via a vapor-deposition process.
"In attempts to work with aged glasses, for example, people have examined amber," Juan de Pablo, UChicago's Liew Family Professor in Molecular Theory and Simulations said.
"Amber is a glass that has been aged millions of years, but you cannot engineer that material. You get what you get," he said.
Ultrastable glasses could find potential applications in the production of stronger metals and in faster-acting pharmaceuticals.
The latter may sound surprising, but drugs with the amorphous molecular structure of ultrastable glass could avoid crystallization during storage and be delivered more rapidly in the bloodstream than pharmaceuticals with a semi-crystalline structure.
Amorphous metals, likewise, are better for high-impact applications than crystalline metals because of their greater strength.
The findings are published in the latest issue of Nature Materials.