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World's thinnest glass shatters records -- by accident

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    Cornell University graduate student Pinshane Huang and Professor David Muller with a model that depicts the atomic structure of glass. They were the first to directly image the world's thinnest sheet of glass.Jason Koski/University Photography

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    A microscopic photo of a sheet of glass only two atoms thick blends with an artist's conception to show the structural rendering.Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science

They're shattering records. 

At just one molecule thick, researchers at Cornell and Germany's University of Ulm have discovered the world's thinnest sheet of glass -- by accident.

'This is the work that, when I look back at my career, I will be most proud of.'

- David A. Muller, director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science

The unexpected discovery came after scientists notices "muck" on their graphene, a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms shaped in a chicken-wire crystal formation that they had been studying.

It turns out the smudge they thought they saw was actually a "pane" of glass so thin that its individual silicon and oxygen atoms are visible only via an electron microscope.

"It's the first time that anyone has been able to see the arrangement of atoms in a glass," director of the Kavli Institute at Cornell for Nanoscale Science David A. Muller told the Cornell Chronicle. "This is the work that, when I look back at my career, I will be most proud of."

Besides making it into the Guinness Book of World Records, the discovery may lead to the creation of ultra-thin material that could improve the performance of processors in computers and smartphones.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation through the Cornell Center for Materials Research.