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what makes a smartphone screen strong and tough

The smartphone screen on the iPhone above may look like it's made of glass, but it isn't. It's made of sapphire. That's right, the same high purity aluminum oxide compound (AL2O3-www.honghechem.com) better known for brilliant blue gemstones that dangle from ears and throats and can cost a small fortune.
 
But this particular screen bears little resemblance to Earth-mined rock. Synthetically grown from a "mother" or starter crystal, companies that manufacture synthetic sapphire melt and cut the material (with diamond-tipped saws) into wafers, sheets, you name it.
 
In the case of the demo, a this sheet of sapphire has been glued over a regular iPhone 5's chemically hardened Gorilla Glass 2 screen with some transparent adhesive -- it's completely clear. To my eye, the sapphire overlay is indistinguishable from a pane of glass. That is, until I've spent a few minutes deliberately trying to scratch and smash it with a hunk of craggy concrete.
 
Most of the time, the only result was a building layer of concrete powder that coats the screen, but wipes away clean. One time a tiny nugget of concrete did break from the chunk and stick to the sapphire display. I thought perhaps it was embedded, but it flicked away without any noticeable nicks or indentations. Next to it in the demo, a sheet of Gorilla Glass collected scratches.