How do you make steel stronger? By making it more like glass:
In normal metals, the atoms are packed together in an orderly, “crystalline” manner, like oranges on a fruit stall. But in amorphous solids, like glass, the atoms are disorderly; they resemble atoms in a liquid, except that they are more or less frozen in place.
Metals with this jumbled atomic structure are typically harder and stronger than their crystalline counterparts, so they are very attractive to engineers. For example, these amorphous alloys could be used to build aeroplanes that are as strong as those made from regular metals, but that use less material, making them much lighter.
The problem is that amorphous metal alloys are generally very expensive. Those on the market are composed mostly of costly zirconium or palladium. An amorphous version of steel, based on iron, would reduce the price considerably.
“All the elements we use in our alloys are cheap,” Lu says. He estimates that his glassy steel could reduce the price tag of amorphous metals from $220 a kilogram to less than $33 a kilogram.
Possible uses for this new steel could range from tougher medical implants to lighter aircraft to better sporting equipment. As far as I know, though, you can’t see through it so visions of that famous scene in Star Trek IV where Scotty hands over the forumla for transparent aluminum will have to wait.