Properties of Matter

Don’t go with the flow

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 IOP RESOURCES

It is often reported that glass is a super-cooled liquid and that glasses gradually flow over time. This claim is linked to the observation that old windows, for example those in cathedrals, are thicker at the bottom than at the top. This notion is actually incorrect — once solidified, glass no longer flows.

The wedge shape of old windows has an alternative explanation. Historical glass-making techniques were unsophisticated and it was difficult to produce panes that were of uniform thickness. To prevent fractures, glaziers typically chose to fit the panes with the thickest part at the bottom, to reduce the stress on the thinner material.

 Glass can flow if heated, but medieval window glass would have to experience temperatures of over 400°C for over a period of 800 years for significant flow to occur.


2023 IOP Awards

Teachers of Physics Awards

Recognising and celebrating outstanding contributions to the field of physics education.

Learn more