From the cutting edge of scientific research we bring you ‘tunable’ glass, built from nanowires, that can turn from clear to cloudy in an instant. Essentially, it’s like having a privacy mode built right into your windows – and it could mean you never need to hang blinds again.
We have the researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to thank for this one. Although tunable glass has been around for a while, this is the first time scientists have managed to produce something that’s cheap and quick enough to be a viable commercial proposition (which of course makes all the difference).
It works by sandwiching glass or plastic between soft elastomers, elastomers that are coated with silver nanowires. These nanowires can then be forced to squeeze together when an electric current is applied – this gives you a randomised coating that effectively frosts the glass.
Samuel Shian, one of the researchers who’s come up with the new material, says it works like a frozen pond: “If the frozen pond is smooth, you can see through the ice. But if the ice is heavily scratched, you can’t see through.”
Vary the voltage and you vary the level of translucency, so you can dial it up or down as required depending on who’s walking past on the street. Right now though the voltage is too high to be practical inside a home, so the next step for the research team is working on ways to bring this down.
If the technology can be perfected, it could even be sprayed on to large windows used in industrial projects. Shian and his colleagues are now looking to work with partners in the glass manufacturing industry, though you’re going to have to stick to your curtains and blinds for the time being.