Until recently, phosphate glasses were regarded as somewhat of a scientific curiosity—materials limited in technological application but nevertheless exhibiting interesting fundamental properties. Although the basic properties of many phosphate glasses have been studied on a laboratory scale during the past 50 years, very few of these materials proved to be of commercial interest. This lack of extensive practical application was primarily related to their poor chemical durability and a tendency to crystallize during processing.
The pace of modern technological development continues to result in an increased demand for new materials with specific characteristics, and this demand has led to renewed interest in a number of previously neglected materials—including phosphate glasses. The combined physical and chemical characteristics of phosphate glasses make them relatively unique among the families of inorganic glasses. These characteristics include: large thermal expansion coefficients, low preparation and softening temperatures, low melt viscosities, chemical compatibility with living bone, and a polymeric structure similar to that in organic polymers. Most recent research on phosphate glasses has emphasized one or more of these characteristics.
The major scientific questions pertinent to technological applications of phosphate glasses are related to utilizing the desirable characteristics of these materials while maximizing their corrosion resistance and thermal stability. In order to tailor a phosphate glass for a particular application, the corrosion mechanism of the glass must often be understood in detail, along with the relationship between the microscopic structure of the glass and its macroscopic properties.