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Corning materials are part of our everyday lives

By
Kelly Dawson
May 9, 2018
10 min read

There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Corning is part of our Zero Waste portfolio.

  • Thomas Edison is credited with creating the lightbulb, but Corning developed the glass bulbs around it
  • Corning developed the first damage-resistant cover glass for mobile devices
  • Corning is also involved with the production of life sciences vessels like those used in stem cell research

Put simply, materials matter. Although we don’t think about it too much, we are seemingly always choosing one material over another based on how much easier it makes our tasks at hand. We opt for a mug over a plate to drink our morning coffee, and pick a cotton shirt over a wool one if it’s warm outside. Sure, this sounds obvious by these terms. But they’re the same basic methods that extend to how we use technology, and that’s where things can get more complicated.

Don’t beat yourself up too much if you’ve never heard the term materials science. No, this field of work probably wasn’t covered outright by your high school chemistry classes, and it doesn’t exactly make the daily headlines. But materials science — the substances that structure a material and define its properties — is all around us, influencing big and small decisions. And when it comes to the gadgets and fixtures of our everyday existence, Corning has been studying materials science for more than a century to deliver some of the most recognizable staples of our world.

Thomas Edison is credited with creating the lightbulb, but Corning developed the glass bulbs around it. As for standard modes of communication, like the telephone and internet, Corning can say that it formed the first low-loss optical fiber that made those connections stronger over longer distances. And did you ever breathe a sigh of relief because your phone screen stayed intact after a spill? Corning developed the first damage-resistant cover glass for these devices, too.

Given those fun facts, it’s no secret that Corning is big on the fundamentals of materials science: research, development, and engineering. It has one of the oldest labs still in operation in the country, and prides itself on devoting a large portion of its money to its beloved RD&E. And it’s because of this commitment to studying the ins and outs of materials that Corning is a leader in display technology, mobile electronics, automotive functions, optical communications, and more. Currently, its research centers in North America, Asia, and Europe are home to about 45,000 employees — and they made it possible for the company to report $10 billion in sales last year.

Through the looking glass

Most of these deep dives are about bright ideas, but none of them were ever as literal as the beginning of Corning. There’s no question that the invention of the lightbulb was groundbreaking, and yet there was still a detail that it needed: a case.

Corning’s business took off in 1849 because it figured out how to enclose the bulb in a rounded glass feature that protected it from the elements. But the company didn’t stop there. After years of creating these glass covers by hand one at a time, its lab determined how to mass produce the bulbs, effectively making them easily available to the public. By 1908, Corning is recognized as the company for glass research and production.

It’s that reputation that carries the company through to the midcentury (and in some regards, to the present day). Corning soon develops durable glass to protect railroad lanterns — making their signals more reliable — and later deciphers how to mass produce radio bulbs by the end of the 1920s. The next decade’s successes are due in large part to an inventor named Dr. James Franklin Hyde, an organic chemist who created silicons and a pure silica compound. You probably know about the ways silicon has been transformative, but this silica compound would eventually be used to engineer reading glasses, telescope mirrors, and spacecraft windows. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the company also built a tube during this period that would eventually become part of the television.

The middle of the 20th century builds on these advances by studying them for improvements. The company once again figures out mass production, this time for optical glasses and TV picture tubes, which make both into features of everyday convenience. Durable glass ceramics are also discovered, and heat-resistant windows allow for NASA’s Project Mercury to put men into orbit. Later, in the 1970s, fiber optics are created to steer the way for further mass communication, and the following decade sees the start of flat-panel displays.

By the end of the century and into the new millennium, Corning is widely credited for defining and perfecting the materials behind communication and lighting technology. This is still what the company focuses on, in everything from flexible optical fibers, protective screens, and large television panels. It also has been instrumental in tools for stem cell research and automotive emissions control.

We would love to go on about everything that Corning has developed through the years, since this general overview — as long as it seems — isn’t everything. Several of its scientists were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame because of their contributions, and a few National Medals of Technology were awarded, too. The work that Corning has done is vast, and its effects have had widespread implications. After all, the mass production of lightbulbs, televisions, and glasses has had a profound impact on how we interact with the world, just as temperature-controlled, scratch-resistant screens have democratized technology for everyday use.

Corning could not have become this prominent without a clear goal to locate, study, build, and refine products that would eventually intertwine technology to the ways in which we live. Its study of materials science has been at the cutting edge for more than a century, making its emerging products and processes some of the best in its industry. And because it has always been nimble to the rolling currents of technology, Corning has allowed its employees to consistently evolve with the times. That’s impressive, considering that this name has been around for as long as the lightbulb has been in the public eye.

Shine bright like a diamond

So where does a company with this much history go from here? Right now, Corning oversees the ongoing research, development, and engineering of smartphone and display screen technology, as well as cars that perform with safer, cleaner, and more sophisticated technology.

That alone can keep the company busy for the foreseeable future. But Corning is also involved with the production of life sciences vessels, like for its aforementioned work in stem cell research, which has already impacted how the healthcare and pharmaceutical fields store and transport medicines.

Materials science is one of the cornerstones of everyday life, whether we realize it or not. But now that we have a little bit more of an idea of what this interdisciplinary study is, we can see why Corning’s work has been so revolutionary. Thanks to its relentless study of what things are comprised of and how they work, Corning has contributed to a society that’s more connected, more mobile, and more entertained. In other words, it’s not too hyperbolic to say that it’s partially responsible for our modern world.

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