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Information for Researchers No. 58 | 9 November 2011
Priority Programme “Topological Engineering of Ultra-strong Glasses” (SPP 1594)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has announced the establishment of a new Priority Programme entitled ”Topological Engineering of Ultra-strong Glasses”. The programme is designed to run for six years.

For millennia, the brittleness of glasses has been perceived as both their greatest value and gravest handicap. Glasses have often been acknowledged as the potentially intrinsically strongest man-made engineering material. However, mainly due to their low resistance to surface damage, the uniquely high levels of intrinsic strength cannot be presently utilised. If, in a large-scale glassy material, only a fraction of this available intrinsic strength could be exploited, the way towards numerous novel, society-changing applications would be paved.

The scientific vision of the priority programme “Topological Engineering of Ultra-strong Glasses” is two-fold:

  1. a significant breakthrough in the understanding of the mechanical properties of disordered solids, going beyond empirical or semi-empirical approaches and, hence, providing concrete physical and chemical tools for the dedicated design of stiffness, strength and toughness of inorganic and metallic glasses;

  2. obtaining the step towards glasses with GPa strength by demonstrating defect-tolerant materials and toughening strategies based on ab initio understanding of the interplay between stress fields and topological features in the bulk and on surfaces.

To this end, the priority programme is dedicated to the exploration of the mechanical properties of disordered materials on a molecular or atomic level, bridging the fields of metallic glasses and inorganic oxide glasses. It considers the topological origin of elasticity, plasticity and fracture in these two classes of materials with the objective of setting the path towards the design of glasses with superior toughness and/or stiffness. Projects should pay particular attention to

  • the identification of general, material-independent topological constraints which may act as levers for controlling mechanical properties,

  • the combination of experimental approaches and computational modelling of the stress-response of glasses and early stages of damage infliction, and

  • the interplay between size and time effects, stress-corrosion and the chemical aspects of fracture.

To reach these goals, the priority programme has its focus on three areas, viz. computational simulation, metallic glasses and inorganic oxide glasses. Here, the investigation of the materials’ response to stress and defect-infliction on either of these areas has the highest research priority. Atomistic simulation is seen as the link between experimental approaches and continuum equations. The three areas are integrated into four major cross-sectional topics, namely

  1. the investigation of dynamic fracture on brittleness, focussing in the case of experimental work preferentially on in-situ techniques,

  2. the investigation of sub-critical fracture and stress corrosion from the perspective of the underlying chemistry as well as transport phenomena in high stress fields,

  3. the multi-scale investigation of elasticity, plasticity and hardness in relation to bulk topology through combining mechanical with structural analyses, and

  4. the ab initio exploration of strategies for increasing the toughness of inorganic oxide glasses as well as metallic glasses.

In the context of one or more of these major topics, proposals are expected to address the relation between topological constraints and macroscopic mechanical properties. The proposals should provide a perspective towards application-related issues that are to be developed further in the second three-year period of the project, e.g. by aiming at the development of quantitative models for the prediction of mechanical properties in specific compositions of practical relevance. The proposals are required to unambiguously state which of the four major topics are covered.

In providing a fundamental understanding and the subsequent development of cross-disciplinary toughening strategies (“topological engineering”), projects should result in a significant leap in mechanical strength and plasticity, and hence enable a new generation of glassy materials.

In the framework of the priority programme, the terms “ab initio” and “topological engineering” refer to bottom-up approaches of acquiring and applying scientific knowledge and tools for the design of glasses. The topological scale, in this context, comprises short- and medium-range structural order, determined, e.g., by means of spatial correlation functions between constituents on the atomistic level. The consequences of this structural order on meso- and macro-scale processes under mechanical load shall be elucidated. Metallic and inorganic oxide glasses are considered because these materials require similar topological considerations. Furthermore, the comparison of metals with inorganic oxides provides synergies with respect to toughening mechanisms and design strategies.

The highly interdisciplinary approach shall bridge the traditional gap between the communities of metallic and inorganic oxide glasses. In order to enable significant synergy and cross-stimulation, proposals are expected to actively involve or provide tangible cooperation between various branches of materials science and engineering, solid-state and interface chemistry, and condensed-matter physics. Also the comparison of experiments to computational simulation is strongly encouraged.

The consideration of both surface and bulk topology is included in the programme in order to reveal the interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic mechanical properties and hardness. However, the investigation of coating problems alone is excluded. Also polymer materials, macroscopic composite materials and glass-ceramics are not covered in the framework of the priority programme. Classical engineering approaches for phenomenological toughening (by, e.g. ion exchange), thermal toughening, ordinary surface crystallisation and conventional mechanical surface treatment will not be supported in the programme. Stand-alone fracture mechanics investigations are also excluded.

Proposals for the initial three-year funding period should be submitted in English as PDF files on CD-ROM no later than 27 January 2012. Submissions, marked as “SPP 1594/1”, should be addressed to Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Dr. Burkhard Jahnen, 53170 Bonn. A colloquium and the review panel meeting are planned for early 2012. The first funding period will start in mid 2012.

Further information

General information (guideline 50.05 and proposal preparation instructions 54.01) is available at:

For scientific enquiries concerning the scope of the programme, please contact the priority programme's coordinator:

For administrative enquiries please contact: