Glass is a non-crystalline, often transparent amorphous solid, that has widespread practical, technological, and decorative use in, for example, window panes, tableware, and optics. Glass is most often formed by rapid cooling (quenching) of the molten form, some glasses such as volcanic glass are naturally occurring. The most familiar, and historically the oldest, types of manufactured glass are "silicate glasses" based on the chemical compound silica (silicon dioxide, or quartz), the primary constituent of sand. Soda-lime glass, containing around 70% silica, account for around 90% of manufactured glass. The term glass, in popular usage, is often used to refer only to this type of material, although silica-free glasses often have desirable properties for applications in modern communications technology. Some objects, such as drinking glasses and eyeglasses, are so commonly made of silicate-based glass that they are simply called by the name of the material.
Glass is sometimes considered to be a liquid due to its lack of a first-order phase transition where certain thermodynamic variables such as volume, entropy and enthalpy are discontinuous through the glass transition range. The glass transition may be described as analogous to a second-order phase transition where the intensive thermodynamic variables such as the thermal expansivity and heat capacity are discontinuous. Nonetheless, the equilibrium theory of phase transformations does not entirely hold for glass, and hence the glass transition cannot be classed as one of the classical equilibrium phase transformations in solids.
In the 1920s a mould-etch process was developed, in which art was etched directly into the mould, so that each cast piece emerged from the mould with the image already on the surface of the glass. This reduced manufacturing costs and, combined with a wider use of coloured glass, led to cheap glassware in the 1930s, which later became known as Depression glass. Throughout the 20th century, new types of glass such as laminated glass, reinforced glass and glass bricks increased the use of glass as a building material and resulted in new applications of glass. Multi-story buildings are frequently constructed with curtain walls made almost entirely of glass. Similarly, laminated glass has been widely applied to vehicles for windscreens. Optical glass for spectacles has been used since the Middle Ages. The production of lenses has become increasingly proficient, aiding astronomers as well as having other application in medicine and science. Glass is also employed as the aperture cover in many solar energy collectors.
In the manufacturing process, glasses can be poured, formed, extruded and molded into forms ranging from flat sheets to highly intricate shapes. The finished product is brittle and will fracture, unless laminated or specially treated, but is extremely durable under most conditions. It erodes very slowly and can mostly withstand the action of water. It is mostly resistant to chemical attack, does not react with foods, and is an ideal material for the manufacture of containers for foodstuffs and most chemicals. Glass is also a fairly inert substance.
The addition of barium also increases the refractive index. Thorium oxide gives glass a high refractive index and low dispersion and was formerly used in producing high-quality lenses, but due to its radioactivity has been replaced by lanthanum oxide in modern eyeglasses. Iron can be incorporated into glass to absorb infrared radiation, for example in heat-absorbing filters for movie projectors, while cerium(IV) oxide can be used for glass that absorbs ultraviolet wavelengths. Fluorine lowers the dielectric constant of glass. Fluorine is highly electronegative and lowers the polarizability of the material. Fluoride silicate glasses are used in manufacture of integrated circuits as an insulator.
Glass is most typically used as transparent glazing material in the building envelope, including windows in external walls, but also for internal partitions. Structural glazing systems represent one of the most significant architectural innovations of modern times, where glass buildings now often dominate skylines of many modern cities. These systems use stainless steel fittings countersunk into recesses in the corners of the glass panels allowing strengthened panes to appear unsupported creating a flush exterior. Structural glazing systems have their roots in iron and glass conservatories of the nineteenth century.