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Glass Properties 'Fossilize' In Amber

Study of near-ideal glass identifies inherent characteristics that are independent of sample history

by Jyllian Kemsley
May 5, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 18

Credit: Bjorn Svensson/Science Source
A fly fossilized in amber.
Amber containing a fossilized fly.
Credit: Bjorn Svensson/Science Source
A fly fossilized in amber.

Amber is polymerized, hardened tree resin that is prized for its golden color and ability to preserve animal and plant materials. After undergoing thermodynamic stabilization for millions of years, it can be considered an almost ideal glass. By studying 110 million-year-old samples from a cave in Spain, a team has identified some properties of the glass, such as its specific heat capacity at low temperature, that appear to be intrinsic to the material and not dependent on its history (Phys. Rev. Lett. 2014, DOI: 10.1103/physrevlett.112.165901). Led by Miguel A. Ramos of the Autonomous University of Madrid, the researchers studied pristine amber as well as samples that they annealed below, near, and above the glass-transition temperature. Unexpectedly, they found that all samples have the same specific heat capacity at low temperature. The finding indicates that certain thermodynamic properties of the glass are “fossilized” in the material. Amber may serve as a model for studying puzzling properties of the glass state, the authors suggest.


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