In the 1986 movie “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” the Enterprise crew travels back from the 24th century to present-day Earth where, among other things, Scotty barters for enough Plexiglass to build a giant whale tank by offering the formula for “transparent aluminum.”
As it turns out, the movie was not too far off in placing the technology closer to present times, as we may soon be seeing—and seeing through—something similar. The Naval Research Laboratory is developing a version of the gemstone spinel that, rather than being transparent aluminum, is a transparent ceramic that could produce armor-strength windows, as well as make camera lenses and smartphone screens that don’t scratch or break.
And because it’s much stronger than glass, thinner, lighter layers of it would be required for, say, aircraft windows, sensors or any other purpose now performed by glass. "For weight-sensitive platforms—UAVs [unmanned autonomous vehicles], head-mounted face shields—it's a game-changing technology," Dr. Jas Sanghera, NRL’s lead researcher on the project, said in a release.