Researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, led by Associate Professor Kenneth Chau, have found that coating glass with thin layers of metal may allow windowpanes to selectively filter heat or light, or even conduct electricity.
The development brings the world in which apparently transparent windows double as video monitors or smart home dashboards just a little closer.
“Engineers are constantly trying to expand the scope of materials that they can use for display technologies, and having thin, inexpensive, see-through components that conduct electricity will be huge,” said Chau. “I think one of the most important implications of this research is the potential to integrate electronic capabilities into windows and make them smart.”
Windows themselves, rather than thermostats, could be programmed to either absorb or reflect heat.
Chau and his collaborator, UBC Assistant Professor of Engineering Loïc Markley, came up with the idea of applying metal to glass in a reversal of the normal process of applying glass to metal when creating energy efficient window coatings.
The team coated glass with silver less than 10 nanometres, one billionth of a metre, thick.
“It’s been known for quite a while that you could put glass on metal to make metal more transparent, but people have never put metal on top of glass to make glass more transparent,” said Markley. “It’s counter-intuitive to think that metal could be used to enhance light transmission, but we saw that this was actually possible, and our experiments are the first to prove it.”
Chau and Markley’s findings are published this week in Scientific Reports, the Nature Publishing Group’s open access journal.
Chau’s UBC page says that his research boils down to two questions: “How can nanotechnology be used to better harness and control light? What new insights can be gained about light-matter interaction by working at the nano-scale?”